The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing published a special collection of papers regarding COVID-19. This included a paper by Aaron R. Brough and Kelly D. Martin, discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic led to four phenomena related to personal data. The four phenomena are:
- Increased surveillance by governments worldwide, in the form of generalised data collection about the movements and the location of citizens.
- New digital records resulting from the uptake of online services, as a result of movement restrictions.
- Greater sharing of personal data by governments, with the aim of protecting public health.
- Weaker security of online activity, as a result of the rush to remote working.
The paper by Brough and Martin is entitled “Consumer Privacy During (and After) the COVID-19 Pandemic”, can be accessed here (open access, at the time of writing).
I have been reflecting on the four phenomena discussed in the paper, thinking about their commonalities and differences, and came up with the following classification. I think that we can look at these phenomena in terms of their drivers. Here, we can distinguish between pull forces (mostly resulting from governments’ initiatives) vs. push forces (mostly resulting from private behaviours). Alternatively, we can look at these phenomena in terms of their outcome. In this case, we can distinguish between generating personal data vs. disclosing personal data.
I have put these together in the figure below, with some additional examples.
In their paper, Brough and Martin go on to discuss the implications of these phenomena in terms of privacy, and associated research questions:
To these, I would add the following:
- Issues related to exclusion and consumer vulnerability, as I discussed in this blog post about contact tracing apps.
- Issues related to innovation and the opportunities for new product development, because data become available about groups which had previously shunned digital media.
- Issues related to market structure and competition, when privileged access to data is granted to specific companies which already have significant market power.
What are the other consequences of the effect of COVID-19 on the generation and disclosure of personal data?