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British study suggests majority of people support giving up privacy to tackle coronavirus

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A British study says that as many as 70 percent of the country’s citizens back using some form of privacy undermining tracking policies and tech in the Covid epidemic.

A part of a global project whose results are updated by Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive psychology professor at the University of Bristol, the study purports to show that 70 percent of respondents support opt-in phone apps that track their location to curb the coronavirus epidemic, while 65 percent they wouldn’t mind it even if it was mandatory to put these on their phones.

Slightly fewer would carry documents proving they have Covid antibodies, i.e., “immunity passports” – 60 percent. These high figures are leaving observers wondering if after nearly a year of the pandemic, UK citizens are starting to embrace privacy encroaching tech in general, or simply want the devastating lockdowns to end quickly and are willing to trade in their privacy as a “one-off” move.

On the other hand, perhaps respondents have become wary of expressing themselves “too freely” on the issue, given the climate around it, and would rather do say one thing and do another.

That question makes sense because these results, specifically those about the willingness of people to have voluntary or compulsory apps on their phones, tracking them to let the authorities know whether they’ve been in contact with an infected person – don’t match what’s currently reality on the ground.

There, the country’s health service NHS came up with its Test and Trace app whose adoption is much lower than the study’s results suggests it should be. For this type of tracking to be effective, at least 56 percent of a population needed to download and use it. In the UK, this would mean over 30 million people, while the current number of users is only 21 million.

But Lewandowsky is still happy with the “surprisingly permissive” stance toward what could mean people are willing to have their privacy compromised if it serves public health, or, “the greater good.”

The issue of the discrepancy between the declared willingness to use privacy undermining apps and the reality still remains.

But Lewandowsky is optimistic and welcoming of the study’s results. “It’s fascinating how people seem increasingly receptive to their personal data being used to inform themselves and others about what they can and can’t do,” he said.

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