How are governments using location tracking in combination with personal data to track and combat COVID-19?

With COVID-19 taking the central stage across the globe, the governments, non-profits and other civil society organizations are finding new ways to tackle the spread of the virus. As a part of this effort is the contact tracing technology that is helping various governments with the help of location tracking and analysis. Here is how various countries are using location tracking and personal data to combat COVID-19.

What is "Contact tracing" technology?

According to Coin Center, “Contact tracing” describes a technology that can track individuals and obtain a verifiable record of persons with whom they’ve recently been in close physical contact.

CoronaTrace is a platform to facilitate decentralized contact tracing for confirmed Covid-19 patient
CoronaTrace is a platform to facilitate decentralized contact tracing for confirmed Covid-19 patient

How Contact tracing is helping in COVID-19?

The data of the people gets collected via an app, and the individual identity is established in an infected community. One a tracked person tests positive for COVID-19, tracing technology helps governments to determine who all might get be infected by analyzing their recent contacts interaction history. Then these contacts are alerted and might get tested or be asked to go for self-quarantine.

Types of contact tracking

As per Coin Center, three border categories of solutions vary based on how invasive they are about with regard to a persons privacy:

  1. State-run full GPS tracking and location data sharing that’s mandatory for everyone, in use in China and South Korea,
  2. A centralized lists of phones (identified by phone numbers) that have been near other phones, generally by using Bluetooth to note when two phones are near each other, in use in Singapore, or
  3. Decentralized and anonymized contract tracing is  prevalent in use especially in Europe.

Aarogya Setu COVID-19 contact tracking app from India
Aarogya Setu COVID-19 contact tracking app from India

Various categories of location tech use

GDPRHub has identified and classified the location and user dat tracking activities under the following categories.

1. Centralized contact tracing systems
2. Decentralized contact tracing apps or frameworks
3. Enforcement of individual quarantine
4. Enforcement of lock-down
5. Location mapping projects
6. Self-assessment apps
7. Statistical analysis

We analyzed the data and found that Decentralized contact tracing apps or frameworks is a predominantly in use across especially across Europe.


A geographic view of the location tracking apps & frameworks

As seen in the map, a lot of hot spots are visible across Europe, where we tracked around twenty five applications and frameworks in place or in discussions. In countries like India and Singapore and else where, we only saw single app being used as per the data referred from GDPRHub.

Comprehensive list of Applications

Spatial Analytics and Dashboards in the global COVID-19 scenario

WGIC has seen an uptake in the application and use of spatial analytics during the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of dashboards. A majority of them are providing near real-time information on the global and regional spread. And some are offering a historical analysis. A select few are also explaining how it happened through an interactive map story. This effort from WGIC is to highlight the great work from various organizations and individuals who are providing the COVID-19 dashboards enabled with spatial analytics.