Group: Pandemic tech tools raise risk of everyday tracking

Dec 8, 2021, 8:06 AM | Updated: Dec 9, 2021, 5:18 am
A view of an iphone showing the new NHS COVID-19 mobile phone application after the app went live o...

A view of an iphone showing the new NHS COVID-19 mobile phone application after the app went live on Thursday morning in London, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. A new report group says digital contact tracing apps, artificial intelligence and other tech tools that European governments rolled out to combat COVID-19 failed to play a key role in solving the pandemic and now threaten to make such monitoring widely accepted. The nonprofit research group AlgorithmWatch said Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 that the health surveillance technologies many countries deployed were often adopted without enough transparency, safeguards or democratic debate. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

LONDON (AP) — Tech tools like digital contact tracing apps and artificial intelligence that European governments rolled out to combat COVID-19 failed to play a key role in solving the pandemic and now threaten to make such monitoring widely accepted, a new report shows.

The health surveillance technologies that many European countries deployed after the coronavirus pandemic erupted last year were often adopted without enough transparency, safeguards or democratic debate, according to a report released Thursday by AlgorithmWatch, a nonprofit research group that tracks the impact of AI systems.

Authorities scrambled to develop new technologies or use existing ones to combat the virus’s spread. They built digital contact tracing apps to track who infected people had been around and later developed vaccine passports to verify people had received COVID-19 shots in order to travel or get into concerts, restaurants and other businesses. Some used drones and devices to enforce social distancing rules.

Many of these systems used “automated decision-making” technology, which reduced the complex social challenges posed by COVID-19 to a set of technology issues in need of tech solutions, the Berlin-based nonprofit said.

AlgorithmWatch acknowledged that technology played a role in helping save some lives during the pandemic, such as through the use of artificial intelligence to efficiently distribute vaccines.

But the report’s authors said the most worrying trend was how the pandemic was used to “further entrench and normalize the surveillance, monitoring, measuring and prediction of an increasing number of daily activities — now essentially including public and personal health purposes.”

That’s an even larger problem considering the “bugs, fakery, data leaks” the group says are present in such tools, and the growing number of uses for information from COVID-fighting tech around the world.

Among the group’s recommendations: use an “evidence based” approach when rolling out automated decision-making technology and clearly limit its use to avoid “mass opaque deployments” that are bad for democracy.

The report documented the false starts and pitfalls that came with rushing out new and untested technology, focusing mainly on European countries.

In the early days of an initial 2020 lockdown, Belgian police planned to use drones to monitor social distancing but dropped the idea after a backlash. There was also a move to use security cameras originally installed to fight serious crime and terrorism in an example of “function creep” — where technology is used for a different purpose than originally intended. That brought an expanded risk of a “surveillance society,” the report said.

Contact tracing apps flourished. Most are based on technology jointly developed by Apple and Google and use Bluetooth signals to anonymously log any smartphones that have been in close, extended contact with a phone belonging to someone who has tested positive.

But uptake was spotty. For example, there’s evidence the Cyprus government’s tracing app “was not widely adopted,” the report said.

The Dutch government’s CoronaCheck vaccination status app was plagued with glitches. Because of the decentralized and privacy sensitive design, its QR code couldn’t be revoked if a user tested positive, allowing continued access to places that required proof of vaccination or a negative test result. It was also possible to manipulate the app to get a fake test result, the report said.

The Dutch health ministry did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

An Estonian chatbot used on a number of public websites gave incorrect information about COVID-19. In one instance in October, it reported there was no vaccination available against the virus.

Poland’s government developed an algorithm to verify the tax residence of entrepreneurs so they could qualify for pandemic financial assistance, but it came under fire for not disclosing details about the algorithm that could be used to assess its effectiveness.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A pedestrian uses an umbrella as they cross Liberty Avenue, in downtown Pittsburgh, as snow begins ...
Associated Press

Winter storm whipping East Coast with snow, thunderstorms

A dangerous winter storm was bringing significant snowfall, strong thunderstorms and blustery winds to the East Coast of the U.S. on Monday. A foot (30 centimeters) of snow was forecast for parts of New England, New York state, Ohio and Pennsylvania through Tuesday morning. Forecasters in Buffalo, New York, said the snow was falling fast. […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

7 in Swiss trial over protest against quarry expansion

GENEVA (AP) — Seven activists have gone on trial in Switzerland on Monday over charges including alleged trespassing and resisting arrest, over their roles in a campsite protest against the expansion of a limestone quarry in rolling Swiss countryside. The defendants, who are being tried separately in rapid-succession hearings this week, are the first among […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Sweden puzzled by drones spotted over 2 nuclear power plants

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Swedish authorities are puzzled by reports that drones last week were seen hovering over two nuclear power plants on the country’s Baltic Sea coast. Police said Sunday that preliminary investigations have been launched, adding the probes are being handled locally by investigators but they are coordinated nationally by the Swedish police’s […]
1 day ago
Former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. poses after filing his certificate of candidacy for ...
Associated Press

Philippine dictator’s son defeats bid vs. presidential run

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The son of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos defeated on Monday a bid to disqualify him from the May 9 presidential race but still faces other petitions from human rights victims and others who have raised alarm over atrocities under his late father’s rule. The Commission on Elections rejected a petition […]
1 day ago
A medical helicopter rests next to the Drexel Hill United Methodist Church after it crashed in the ...
Associated Press

Pilot of crashed medical helicopter released from hospital

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The pilot of a medical helicopter that crash-landed without loss of life next to a church in a residential area of suburban Philadelphia last week expressed gratitude to his crew and first responders as he was released from a hospital Sunday. Danial Moore was wheeled out of the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Trial against philanthropist and dozens resumes in Turkey

ISTANBUL (AP) — The trial against prominent Turkish civil rights figure Osman Kavala resumed Monday — the 1539th day of his pre-trial detention — without his participation. The hearing is taking place as a Council of Europe deadline that could trigger infringement procedures looms. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2019 that Kavala’s […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
Group: Pandemic tech tools raise risk of everyday tracking