SUM receives funding for research on the use of new digital technology during the pandemic
The grant comes from the Research Council of Norway's COVID-19 emergency call.
Will people let public health authorities track their movements through mobile phone data as they seek the effects of the COVID-19 countermeasures? This is one of the questions that will be studied by the SUM researchers. In the photo: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Katerini Storeng and Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée.
COVID-19 is the first pandemic in the age of the smartphone.
In the past few months we have seen how our mobile phones can collect information on our movements and interactions in tracking the spread of disease, and be used in handling the global "infodemic," i.e. the spread of false information related to the pandemic.
The The Smartphone Pandemic project will map the rapid introduction of such new technology during the Covid-19 pandemic, explore global norms of ownership and use of digital data and look at how new forms of digital surveillance affect trust between governments and citizens in different contexts. It will also examine the rise of technology companies as important political actors in the Covid-19 response.
Katerini Storeng will lead the project, which will kick off already on June 1st.
The debate on mobile data has so far mostly revolved around the protection of personal data versus health benefits. We think it is necessary to expand the debate to consider the broader societal consequences, says Katerini Storeng.
The aim of the project is to create knowledge that can be used in the current handling of the pandemic.
What are the consequences of a hasty introduction of new technology?
A lot of health-related work is characterised by techno-optimism: a belief that technology is the solution and that technological solutions will function in similar ways regardless of context, says Storeng.
We are interested in challenging this assumption by comparing the use of new digital technology in two widely different social and political contexts: Norway and Sierra Leone.
Unlike Norway, Sierra Leone has experience with using mobile data and mobile technology from during the Ebola crisis in 2014-16. While Norwegians are known for their high trust in their public authorities, the situation in Sierra Leone is very different. Here, we find a pronounced lack of trust after many years of civil war and conflict.
We think this will affect the use of digital technology in interesting and important ways, says Storeng.
In both of these countries we see that the technology companies are gaining an important political role in the pandemic response, and in many contexts set the terms for the use of new technology.
The core group of the project consist of Katerini Storeng, Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée and Desmond McNeill from the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM, UiO), Susan Shepler from the University of Makeni in Sierra Leone and American University in Washington, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr from The New School in New York and Sridhar Venkatapuram from King's College i London.
The project was developed with funding from the RELIGHT programme at the Centre for Global Health, UiO.
Research on global health
Read more about the Global Health Politics research group at SUM.