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The Smartphone Pandemic: Mobile technologies and data in the COVID-19 response

What are the social, political and ethical implications of the rapid introduction of new smartphone technologies in fight the COVID-19 pandemic? 

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About the project

Covid-19 is the first pandemic in the age of the smartphone. Although digital communication technologies, big data and algorithms have played an important role in pandemic preparedness efforts for several years, we have seen a rapid expansion in the use of digital tools in response to the current pandemic, enabled in large part by smartphones. Both autocratic and democratic societies are now widely deploying digital surveillance technologies and digital contact tracing apps in their responses to covid-19.

Led by medical anthropologist Katerini T. Storeng, ‘The Smartphone Pandemic’ project critically examines the rise of such ‘pandemic tech’ innovations – and the companies that own them. By combining insights from anthropology, international relations, political economy and philosophy, the project studies the global norms and institutions governing the use of smartphone technologies and data in times of crisis, and the social, political and ethical implications of their use in in specific contexts.

Through ethnographic and policy research in Norway, Sierra Leone and Myanmar, the project will provide case studies of the role of digital technologies in national health authorities' response to Covid-19, and shed light on how tech companies’ experimentation with mobile tracking in past disease outbreaks inform current policy responses transnationally.


The project will provide insights into the ethical and equitable use of digital technological innovations in different political and social contexts that will be of direct relevance ot policy responses. It will also contribute to interdisciplinary debates by examining:

1) How the involvement of new actors like Big Tech companies and mobile operators set the terms for pandemic preparedness and response. 

2) How different tools and practices of security, such as algorithmic systems and devices, shape how we identify, understand and respond to societal risk.

3) The political, social and ethical implications of the rise of digital health tools more generally.


The Smartphone Pandemic project is one of 30 projects that has been granted funds from the COVID-19 Emergency Call at The Research Council of Norway.


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June 2020 - June 2022

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News and media


Katerini Tagmatarchi Storeng & Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée, 2021, The Smartphone Pandemic: How Big Tech and public health authorities partner in the digital response to Covid-19, Global Public Health.

Puyvallée, Antoine de Bengy, 2020, Book Review: Data Justice and COVID-19, Global Perspectives. Security and Dialogue.

Erikson, Susan, 2020, COVID-19 Mobile Phone Apps Fail the Most Vulnerable, Global Policy Journal.

Martin French, Stephen L. Roberts et. al, 2020 Corporate contract tracing as a pandemic response, Critical Public Health.

Stephen L. Roberts, 2020, Covid-19 and the crisis of international politics, BMJ Opinion.

Stephen L. Roberts, 2020, Incorporating non-expert evidence into surveillance and early detection of public health emergencies, Institute of Development Studies.

Blogs and other entries

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, A pandemic letter from Tokyo (November 2020).

Stephen L. Roberts, Security, surveillance and shambles: the UK’s contact-tracing app (May 2020).

Stephen L. Roberts, Coronavirus: is mass surveillance here to stay? (May 2020): audio

Stephen L. Roberts, Tracking Covid-19 using big data and big tech: a digital Pandora's Box (April 2020).

Stephen L. Roberts, Covid-19 and the crisis of international politics (March 2020).

  • Katerini Tagmatarchi Storeng & Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée (2021). How Big Tech and public health authorities partner in the digital response to Covid-19. Global Public Health.  ISSN 1744-1692.

View all works in Cristin

  •  (2021). Big Tech and the digital response to Covid-19.
  •  (2021). Smarttelefonpandemien.
  •  (2021). Folkehelsegevinsten av Smittestopp må dokumenteres.
  • Katerini Tagmatarchi Storeng (2020). Will Digital Technologies Save Us from the Pandemic?.
  • Katerini Tagmatarchi Storeng (2020). Comments for opening plenary.
  •  (2020). Det store Smittestopp-eksperimentet.
  •  (2020). Digital Technologies Will Not Save Us From The COVID-19 Pandemic.
  •  (2020). Pandemipodden Episode 9: Kan WhatsApp være med på å redde oss fra koronakrisen? Benedicte Bull i samtale med Katerini Storeng..
  •  (2020). Urix: Verdens fattige og korona.
  • Katerini Tagmatarchi Storeng (2020). Pandemiteknologien setter mer enn personvernet på spill. Morgenbladet.  ISSN 0805-3847.
  • Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée (2020). Book review: Data Justice and COVID-19. Global Perspectives. Security Dialogue.  ISSN 0967-0106.
  • Jonas Engestøl Wettre (2020). Lav kvalitet, usikker nytteverdi. Dagsavisen.  ISSN 1503-2892.

View all works in Cristin

Tags: Global Health, Global Health Security, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Digital Health
Published June 9, 2020 8:35 PM - Last modified Feb. 23, 2021 4:36 PM