By Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen
Worldwide there are more than three billion smartphone users and more than three million confirmed cases of covid-19. These two figures seem unrelated, but the development of tracing apps could turn smartphone use into a powerful weapon against the spread of covid-19. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
People’s smartphones (could be made to) contain and disseminate a lot of information about them, which is potentially useful for reducing the spread of covid-19. This could be done in various ways. Given traditional liberal-democratic concerns regarding privacy, abuse of state powers, and voluntariness, probably the most benign model is that people are offered the opportunity to freely download a covid-19 tracing app. If they chose not to, they will suffer no state-imposed sanctions. If they choose to, they will receive an auto-generated text message if they have been physically close to another app user (not revealing this user’s identity), who entered the information that he or she is infected into his or her app. The user can now, say, (again: freely choose to) self-isolate. If everyone chose to download the app etc., there would be no need for costly lockdowns, and the state would not be involved in monitoring people’s private lives.