The U.S. government is reportedly in discussions with Facebook, Google and other major tech companies to use location and movement data from Americans’ smartphones in order to track the spread of the coronavirus. On its face, this feels invasive, but some privacy advocates are saying that this may be a chance for the social media giant to improve its reputation when it comes to user privacy.
However, this presents a thorny ethical dilemma: what is privacy worth when such a massive public health crisis is currently unfolding? Facebook will likely strike a balance by aggregating our data and anonymizing it. It’s a golden opportunity to not only slow the spread of this deadly virus, but also to rebuild trust with the public.
“We’re coming off years of intense criticism of these companies… but at some point we need to rely on them,” said Michelle Richardson, director of the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, in an interview with CNBC. “If people are scared because of past overreaches, this is an opportunity to rebuild trust. These are sophisticated companies, and they have the ability to come up with creative solutions and protect data in ways smaller companies can’t. And maybe find a way to serve the public interest without sharing in a way that upsets people.”
However, Richardson went on to say that there’s never “no risk” when we entrust Facebook with so much control over our information. Still, in this case, it may be for the greater good to do just that.
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