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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.


    June 2020 - June 2022

    Social media: Twitter

    Hashtag: #smartphone_pandemic

    Profiles: @KStoreng @AdeBengyP @sfparr @sridhartweet @tom_traill @SusanShepler @SRobe01 @AureliaNeumark

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    Tags: Global Health, Global Health Security, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Digital Health
    Published June 9, 2020 8:35 PM - Last modified Aug. 16, 2021 3:11 PM