How your phone could end up fighting Covid-19

ID swap: The government app does a digital “handshake” when two users come into close contact. © Getty

Should the government have access to your phone to keep you safe? The UK is trialling an app that will track who we come close to. People are worried this takes away our privacy.

What’s happening

Over 80% of people in the UK have one. The average person spends two hours a day looking at one. Smartphones accompany most of us wherever we go. Now, the government is using them to combat Covid-19. Residents on the Isle of Wight are testing out a new app that tracks the spread of the virus.

Find out more

Smartphone technology has been successful in fighting the disease in other countries. South Korea has had a compulsory app since February. It sends alerts to every person in the country with a smartphone – nearly 90% of the population.

The UK version uses Bluetooth to listen out for signals coming from nearby devices. Whenever you spend a few minutes near someone else with the app, your phones will swap details. Data about who we meet and where we go is gathered by the app and stored in a central government database.

If you develop Covid-19, alerts will be sent to everyone it knows you have met.

Experts say it will help them track the spread of the virus.

But should the government have access to our phones, even if it keeps us safe?

Some say…

Yes. Our health is more important than our privacy and beating the virus should be our main goal. When it comes to sharing our personal details, the government is safe to trust. Other countries have shown that tracing apps are effective at preventing the unnecessary spread of the virus. This app would allow normal daily life to return sooner.

Others think…

No. Nobody should have access to all our information: this app would be able to see where we were all the time. Keeping secrets and information to ourselves is an important part of human happiness. The app would prevent this from happening. It could also be dangerous. No data is safe from hackers, who could steal our details without our knowledge.

You Decide

  1. What are some of the downsides to having a smartphone?

Activities

  1. Design an app that would make your daily life easier. Give it a name and draw its homepage. Send it to your friends and ask if they would use it.

Some People Say...

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

George Orwell in his book, 1984

What do you think?

Word Watch

Compulsory
Something that you have to do.
Bluetooth
A short-range wireless interconnection of mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices.
Data
Collected facts and statistics.
Database
A computer system that holds the collected data.
Privacy
Someone’s right to keep their personal matters secret.
Hackers
People who use computers to gain unauthorised access.

Subjects

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