The EU is mobilizing all its resources for the COVID-19 fight, including the idea of location data share with the European Commission.
EU carriers approve location data share for COVID-19 fight
Eight European Union carriers (Vodafone, T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, Telecom Italia, Telenor, Telia, and A1 Telekom Austria) agree to share data in order to track the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
These carriers want to provide user data for the European Commission. The purpose is to track the encounters of EU citizens. In order to see how, where, and to whom it's spreading, user data becomes essential. Without it, there's little else that will stop the disease in its tracks.
How else can a nation or continent know if its citizens are spreading the disease? Infection tracking. Tracking the number of infections and where they're coming from. How territories or regions rise in infection and death count all aid in knowledge and prevention. Social distancing can only do so much, particularly if citizens are still traveling about.
To this end, these 8 carriers want to help the EU Commission as much as possible to slow down the disease. Since these carriers, like all others, have access to user data, including location, they want to contribute what they can.
The privacy problem
Whenever smartphone user data is at the helm of the discussion, the elephant in the room becomes "the privacy problem." To contribute location data to the fight infringes upon customer privacy. After all, customers entrust carriers with their most intimate phone info. Carriers shouldn't just sell or give it to anyone without consent, should they?
There's debate on that, but an EU Commission official says that the data will be anonymous and that no specifics will leak. There is a way to obtain data legally, though: just ask customers. Some customers will reject the offer, but some customers may be willing to part with their location data for certain financial incentives, perhaps. Transparency with customers would go a longer way than disregarding user consent.
EU carriers inspired by China
These 8 EU carriers want to location data share with the EU Commission. They're not alone. Already, China is tracking user data to tell people if they're at risk. Two apps from China show how the country is fighting coronavirus. The first, Contact Close Detector, uses governmental ID numbers to tell users if they could have coronavirus. The app is likely using surveillance, facial and iris scanning, location data, and more. The other, Singapore app TraceTogether, uses location data tracking via Bluetooth. Singapore says that app itself will die after the coronavirus pandemic does.
At this point, there's no telling when COVID-19 will remove its grip from the world. What this means, though, is that EU Commission authorities could have location data access for at least 18 months (according to the latest estimates on the coronavirus timeframe). As the saying goes, "Absolute power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Can anyone say for certain that, with unfettered access to location data, authorities won't continue to use it for other reasons after the pandemic ends? There could be a privacy war after the death of this global pandemic.