I hear today a story about the Isle of Wight becoming a testing zone for an app designed to let people know if they’ve been in the vicinity of somebody who has self-declared symptoms of coronavirus. Our local radio has been running the story-and-phone-ins all morning . I’m slightly baffled by this and very alarmed at the way this idea will inevitably be heading, aside from the fact that the same effect could be achieved simply by asking the ‘declarers’ to wear a red bandana – it would be cheaper, simpler, and the bandana could double as a mask during any sneezing fits caused by hayfever or the like. So we need to try and get to the bottom of this and to explore the consequences, because all of us need to know the destination to which this winding road will take us. Here’s what I think.
Let’s assume that everyone has a smartphone capable of carrying a tracking app. (They don’t, but what a huge opportunity for smartphone companies to get a properly PPE’d foothold in the senior-user market …more later.) let’s assume also that users must voluntarily place the app on their newly and expensively aquired smartphone. (They won’t have to , because there’s another corporate opportunity …more later.) Okay, so given this scenario. practically everyone will have a smartphone with a coronavirus tracking app on it. Well now we’re in trouble.
The current crisis gives government and big tech the ideal cover for some serious development work. Every one of us who uses social media will understand the extent of the profiling going on, and the profit which is made from this profiling. Facebook isn’t capitalised at over $500,000,000,000 because it likes to give you a way to make your mates laugh at pictures of your budgie doing a juggling act. Google isn’t valued at over £880,000,000,000 because it does shotgun advertising like on an old black and white TV set.
There are other companies out there – remember Cambridge Analytica*? – with very smart people who probably aren’t averse to getting extremely rich and who may or may not recognise some ethical boundary, and if I were in a socially distanced video conference with them right now on consultant’s rates, in pyjama bottoms and a fake shirt and tie, a large mortgage to pay and a corporate ladder to climb as quickly as possible, I would be making a few suggestions.
Having declared on my app that I have symptoms, it’s an obvious improvement to be able to say that I don’t any more. In fact, wouldn’t it make sense if I could complete the workflow, from initial sore throat to discharge from the ICU, by ticking each of these boxes on a checklist and thus declaring to the world, and especially people who’ve been near me, that I’m now immune because I’ve had the virus. Brilliant. I’d simply need to get this confirmed by a doctor at the hospital, and all my contacts could breathe easy again. I could show this to everyone I meet and it could be called an ‘immunity passport’. Big Tech would know this of course, before we did, because it works at the speed of light, and more or less every advertiser in world would now know it too.
I’d go straight to the front of the queue for a cheap holiday as tour companies try and revive their businesses. Cheap insurance would be a given. I’d be able to go to the pub again and have a beer with others like me. I’d be able to nonchalantly jump the queue at Sainsbury’s (see earlier post). I’d be able to apply for jobs that mere mortals wouldn’t have a hope of getting because they wouldn’t be able to prove their immunity on the app. I’d have an encrypted password, the key to secret societies of superbeings…..and the rest of you will be fighting each other to catch the virus so that you can be immune too.
See where this is going? It’s inevitable. Don’t believe for a second that these scenarios are not going to happen if we decide as a society to embrace apps which share and profile our medical history. It is total lunacy to do this. It’s no good simply to say ‘yes, but we’re profiled already, so what’s the harm in some more?’ This is just a way of creating short cuts on a winding road to total control for absolute profit, and I’m betting this won’t be yours.