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South Korea's Use of Data to Track Infected Individuals

Professor of Financial Economics and Part-time Value Investor, Transfin.
Apr 21, 2020 5:02 AM 2 min read
Editorial

While countries around the world shut down or extend their existent lockdowns to curb the spread of the deadly virus, in South Korea people have started to come back on the streets and in the parks.

 

South Korea has emerged as one of the first countries to have successfully flattened the curve of coronavirus transmission, early on during the pandemic with use of private data playing a key role.

 

Gathering lessons from the MERS outbreak that had plagued the country in 2015, Korea changed the law, allowing the Government to collect a patient’s data and security footage during an outbreak. 

 

The details of an infected person thus gathered are shared to alert people to stay away from the path of infection. Website and private apps compile this information, enabling everyone to check if they have crossed paths with a coronavirus-positive person or if one has been near their location in the recent days. 

 

South Korea reportedly used location data from three mobile carriers and transactions from 22 credit-card issuers to decrease the tracking time of potentially infected individuals to 10 minutes.

 

This setup allowed the Government to test over 9,000 people suspected to have come in contact with someone who had tested positive.

 

While that sounds like an efficient and robust plan, tracing people’s every move can be rather controversial, breaching their privacy. Interestingly, however, many in South Korea prioritise public health over human rights and privacy. 

 

With countries such as India, US, UK resorting to multiple technologies to track and monitor citizens, the debate has become more vocal now. 

 

To add fuel to the fire…tech giants Apple and Google, previously accused of prying on people’s personal data, recently announced that they have teamed up to develop contact-tracing technology that can help individuals determine if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

 

During unprecedented times like these, a debate on privacy could have one treading on a slippery slope.

FIN.

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