Your data or your life?

Your data or your life?

As governments around the world scramble to manage the coronavirus outbreak, the location data tracked by your mobile phone has become a highly sought-after commodity. Authorities in China, Israel, Russia, the US, and even the uber-privacy-conscious European Union have either secured access to mobile phone location data that they can use to identify people at risk of infection, or they are trying to get their hands on it.

But is this really a good idea? Here are the arguments for and against:

This is an emergency, track everyone: If there were ever a time to set concerns about privacy aside, this is it. Giving public health authorities access to everyone's location data gives them a better chance of tracking down people who have been in contact with confirmed cases – and helps ensure that those who are already sick stay in quarantine. Right now, governments need all the help they can get. Give them the data. Debates about the privacy implications can wait.


China is in this camp. So are other countries in Asia, like South Korea and Taiwan, that have had better success containing the epidemic – although it's still too early to say whether access to mobile phone location data was the deciding factor.

The risks to privacy are too great. Plus, there's no guarantee this will work: Anybody expecting governments and citizens to engage in level-headed debate about the potential trade-offs between public health and personal privacy during a raging crisis is probably smoking something. Governments will be looking to grab as much power as they can and history shows that they rarely give special powers back even after crises subside. Plus, all the data in the world isn't much use without a plan to put it to work. By the time governments figure it out, the pandemic may already be too widespread for digital tools like this to make a big difference.

Of course, politics is rarely so black and white. Europe, for example, is trying to carve out a middle way – it's asking mobile phone companies to share anonymized location data to help stem the spread of the virus in a way that still adheres to the bloc's tough data protection laws, while also issuing guidance to those member states who do want to pass emergency legislation that would allow for more detailed tracking.

Who's got it right? Is there another approach here that we are missing? Let us know your thoughts here.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

The coronavirus pandemic has radically accelerated the adoption of digital technology in the global economy, creating an opportunity for millions of new businesses and jobs. However, it has also left millions jobless and exposed yet another vulnerability: hundreds of millions of people lack access to this technology.

To be sure, this divide was already present before COVID-19 struck. But unequal access to the internet and technology is going to make the multiple impacts of the pandemic much worse for offline and unskilled communities, among others. In fact, there is not a single global digital gap, but rather several ones that the coronavirus will likely exacerbate.

More Show less

As the UN turns 75, the organization is revealing the results of a global survey of nearly a million people in 193 nations—what matters most to them, and how do they view the need for global cooperation at this time of unprecedented crisis? Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser Fabrizio Hochschild explains the purpose and findings of the report.

The world's largest multilateral organization was born out of the global crisis of World War II. Now, as another crisis rocks the world, the United Nations is facing a challenge of its own—to remain relevant in an increasingly nationalistic geopolitical environment. On the eve of the first virtual UN General Assembly, GZERO World host Ian Bremmer spoke to UN Secretary-General António Guterres about pandemic response, climate action, the US/China schism, and more.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

More Show less