Press Release | A peek into the realities of Covid-19 Tech Tools for Public Health: Making a stronger case for responsible tech

A rapid review of the different tech tools being deployed to support the public health response to the COVID-19 crisis in India

August 26th, 2020, Goa, India

Tandem Research, a leading technology and society think tank in India, released a report last week, titled Covid-19 Tech Tools for Public Health. The report assesses the numerous technological tools deployed in India to support the public health response to Covid-19 in India. The report is particularly significant in light of the recent move to introduce the unique health ID, as it aims to use technology to streamline healthcare services.

Through a review of the tools, it finds that a number of the technological tools currently being deployed, do not have adequate legal frameworks, nor are they inclusive. Many tools operate with no accountability and transparency processes in place.

In the wake of Covid-19, the report uses these prevalent problems identified through its assessment of the tools, to develop a framework for responsible tech adoption that demonstrates the need to rethink this purely technological approach through the lens of access, efficacy, misuse and privacy.

The report is based on a tracker on tech tools for public health maintained by Tandem Research since May 2020.

  • Most tech tools to manage pandemic raise issues of privacy, efficacy, equity, accountability and misuse: Skeletal privacy policies indicate poor protection of data, limited accessibility and availability of tools to majority of the population and especially the lack of information on the workings of the tools deployed have been a few of the core concerns the report demonstrates.
  • Breakdown of tools indicate government backed are higher in number: The report identifies a total of 85 different technological tools that serve a wide range of purposes. These tools were categorised into 6 groups on the basis of primary function and purpose. 64 have been government backed tools either through development or deployment; out of this, 44 have been developed in partnership with private developers and tech companies, and only 32 have been developed in partnership with the IT departments and other government agencies. The private sector independently has developed 21 tools in total.
  • Telemedicine increased by 500% between March and May 2020. : Reviewing tools in the telemedicine category led to the discovery that telehealth consultations in India have witnessed a 500% rise between March to May, 2020, with a specific increase of 200% in teleconsultations for mental health.
  • Evolving forms of Testing and Screening, raise higher degree of privacy concerns: A total of 10 tools were identified and 4 reviewed, of which a few employed novel methods through AI based sound detection, image recognition and temperature detection for detection purposes. Questions arise around privacy and security of data as such tools can be quite granular, and can collect not just personal information, but bodily/corporeal information.
  • Most apps include much of the population. Only two apps were feature phone ready. With digital contact tracing requiring smartphones, it excludes a majority of the Indian population as over 560 million are not internet users and only 354 million own smartphones.
  • Even information apps raise privacy concerns. To battle the present infodemic, governments have developed official tools that provide citizens with verified and correct information regarding Covid-19. The report reviews 5 out of 23 identified tools. A core concern lies in the broad privacy policies that allow these tools to go beyond the necessary degree of data collection required for just an information providing app.
  • Inaccuracies with Location Tracking and Quarantine Management: From the 4 tools the report reviews, it notes multiple instances of individuals being labeled as offenders having violated quarantine multiple times without having even stepped outside their houses once.

Initiative

AI & Society

Authors

Angelina Chamuah

Angelina Chamuah is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her current work is focused on understanding regulatory frameworks for emerging technologies in India.She is interested in studying the development of emerging technologies and the complex entanglements between technology and society. Her M.Phil. research is centered on human-machine interactions in the context of social robotics and engages with questions of design and agency in the building of affective relationalities between humans and social robots. She has an M.A and M.Phil. in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics and a B.A (H) in Sociology from Miranda House, New Delhi.

Harsh Ghildiyal

Harsh Ghildiyal is a Research Associate at Tandem Research. He currently works on research across the technology and society vertical. Harsh is interested in understanding the social implications of technology, consequent regulatory responses, and working towards an equitable technological future. Before joining Tandem Research, he was a Teach for India fellow. He has a B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) degree from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam.

Joanne D'Cunha

Joanne D'Cunha is a law graduate from Symbiosis Law School with a Masters in Information Technology and Intellectual Property Rights from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. She has worked on legal and policy aspects of free speech, surveillance, data protection, net neutrality, and intermediary liability. She currently is a Research Associate at Tandem working in the AI and Society program.

Aishwarya Viswanathan

Aishwarya Viswanathan is a Research Fellow at the Technology, Art and Society program, jointly led by Tandem Research and Quicksand Design Studio. In her research, she is currently exploring the aesthetics and spectatorship of violent user-generated media on social media platforms, and its role in transforming human interaction and engagement. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts and a Master’s degree in Aesthetics and Visual Cultures.

Related

Aug 19, 2020

Download

Angelina Chamuah, Harsh Ghildiyal...

COVID-19 Tech Tools for Public Health