LSE Blog Roundup: Uruguay’s COVID-19 contact tracing app reveals the growing importance of data governance frameworks

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by: Fabrizio Scrollini; Javier Baliosian; Lorena Etcheverry and Guillermo Moncecchi

Uruguay’s pioneering adoption of Google and Apple’s contact tracing interface is understandable given the urgent need to halt the spread of COVID-19. But this move also puts serious issues of governance, health policy, and human rights in the hands of software developers who have neither the expertise nor the legitimacy required to properly address them. During today’s crisis just as in the future, governments must ask the right questions about data governance if they are to come up with the right policies.

As COVID-19 has swept across Latin America, it has become painfully clear that deep inequalities, including in access to healthcare and social services, have left vulnerable groups bearing the brunt of the crisis. Individual governments have responded in different ways, with most implementing some form of restriction on movement, but today there is a growing interest in using new technologies to try to mitigate the spread and impact of the pandemic.

To date, at least 28 different apps have been employed in the region to deal with various aspects of this complex situation. Some provide basic information and advice, whereas others are more complex, checking whether users have the right to be out and about in particular places or at particular times. As these apps have spread, so too have debates about the implications for privacy and the potential use of citizens’ information for political purposes.

In this context, the Uruguayan government announced the launch of a new version of its COVID-19 related application (CoronavirusUy) that will implement exposure-alert protocols developed by Apple and Google. Uruguay is the first country in Latin America to test this solution and one of the early adopters worldwide, along with Switzerland and Germany. But will this development help to contain the pandemic? If so, at what cost? And could other countries in the region follow Uruguay’s lead?

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