AS the Covid-19 challenge continues to test the limits of healthcare infrastructure around the world, tech giants like Google have rolled out new features with the aim of helping both citizens and governments. Google’s efforts include a crucial SOS Alert that connects people with the latest news and safety tips from the World Health Organisation. The tech company is also active in removing misinformation on platforms like YouTube and Google Search to limit the harm to unsuspecting users on the lookout for ‘cures’ and ‘remedies’. In these unprecedented circumstances, artificial intelligence tools developed by some Silicon Valley companies are combing through coronavirus research databases to uncover new insights into the global pandemic. The role of technology and these platforms in this exceptional crisis is undeniable. Yet the companies at the helm of this technology have a huge responsibility towards citizens.

Google’s recent release of location reports for 131 countries, including Pakistan, is helping health authorities assess if people are abiding by social distancing orders, with the tech giant saying it has published the reports to avoid confusion about what is being provided to the authorities. Undoubtedly, these companies are the gatekeepers of data belonging to millions of citizens across the world — data which is used to generate profit through targeted advertising. For this reason, they must responsibly fight disinformation and aid governments and researchers wherever they can to help the world tackle the coronavirus outbreak. However, they must be cognisant of the fact that sharing any citizen data with governments means treading a fine legal and ethical line. China, Singapore, South Korea and other countries have asked residents to use technology to track their compliance with quarantines, but privacy activists argue such measures can compromise individual liberties. The anonymised geo-tracking of citizens can go a long way in helping governments enforce distancing, but it may also be open to misuse. As some experts have noted, technology can save lives, but if implementation unreasonably threatens privacy, more lives may be at risk.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020

Opinion

Lull before the storm
Updated 24 Oct 2021

Lull before the storm

It does not take rocket science to figure out why each of the two sides is taking the stand it is.
The larger debate
Updated 23 Oct 2021

The larger debate

The revelations show how the economy promotes inequality.

Editorial

Anti-government rallies
Updated 24 Oct 2021

Anti-government rallies

Banning a party because it can create a public nuisance sets a dangerous precedent which can be repeated to justify future bans.
24 Oct 2021

End of polio?

AFTER a long struggle, the reward is finally in sight. With only a single case of wild poliovirus reported this year...
24 Oct 2021

Heritage work

IT is encouraging that, slowly, projects of heritage conservation and preservation appear to be taking off. These...
A final push
Updated 23 Oct 2021

A final push

PAKISTAN’S hopes of exiting the so-called FATF grey list have been shattered once again. The global money...
23 Oct 2021

Kabul visit

FOREIGN MINISTER Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s flying visit to Kabul on Thursday is the first official high-level...
23 Oct 2021

Baqir’s blooper

THE remarks made by State Bank governor Reza Baqir at a London press conference have hit a raw nerve in Pakistan. In...