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.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

British economist Jim O'Neill says the global economy can bounce back right to where it was before, in a V-shaped recovery. But his argument is based on a lot of "ifs," plus comparisons to the 2008 recession and conditions in China and South Korea that may not truly apply. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Robert Kahn take issue with O'Neill's op-ed, on this edition of The Red Pen.

Today, we're taking our Red Pen to an article titled "A V-Shaped Recovery Could Still Happen." I'm not buying it. It's published recently by Project Syndicate, authored by British economist named Jim O'Neill. Jim O'Neill is very well known. He was chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He's the guy that coined the acronym BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China. So, no slouch. But as you know, we don't agree with everything out there. And this is the case. Brought to you by the letter V. We're taking sharp issue with the idea that recovery from all the economic devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic is going to happen quickly. That after the sharp drop that the world has experienced, everything bounces back to where it was before. That's the V. Economists around the world are debating how quickly recovery will happen to be sure. But we're not buying the V. Here's why. W-H-Y.

More Show less

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

More Show less

Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, provides his perspective on technology news:

Will the new audit of Facebook civil rights practices change the way the company operates?

Yes. It came under a lot of pressure from civil rights activists who organized an advertising boycott. And then an internal audit on Facebook's effect on civil rights came out. It was quite critical. Those two things, one after the other, will surely lead to changes at the company.

More Show less

The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have recently become very different. Since the beginning of July, the average number of both new fatalities and new deaths per 1 million people is rapidly increasing in the US while it remains mostly flat in the EU. We compare this to the average number of new cases each seven days in both regions, where the US trend continues upward but is not surging like the death toll. EU countries' robust public health systems and citizens' willingness to wear masks and maintain social distance could explain the disparity.