Data Privacy Discussion Health

How sharing personal data makes us all healthier

Before our lives were rocked by Covid-19, many arguments around sharing personal data had privacy firmly at their heart. Ownership of data was the key topic of debate, along with how sharing could be made better and fairer, so that those who created the data were those who benefited from it.

Of course, those remain critically important issues and an important strand of work, policy and public education from companies including

But Covid-19 has brought a new dimension to the argument, because it is primarily through the sharing of personal data, including health information, that society can get back to something approaching normal.

Contact tracing, whether manually or through apps, is how people know if they have potentially been exposed to the virus, and are quickly able to take steps to get themselves tested and isolate if necessary, helping remove it from circulation.

Quickly getting on top of local outbreaks, in turn, helps avoid regional lockdowns as well as business closures for any longer than needed, providing a vital boost to the economy and individual livelihoods in the face of a looming recession.

Sharing data, then, is a societal good from which we all benefit. And with no end to the coronavirus in immediate sight, with a vaccine still months away at best, we can expect to see new innovations in this area as we all attempt to live alongside the ever-present virus threat while trying to go about something resembling our daily lives.

It is not hard to imagine a world where more starts to be made of this data – where apps can be used not just to track the contacts of known virus cases, but to tell businesses or organisations that users are, as far as they can tell, symptom free. This use would have wider applications as the UK government, for example, moves firmly behind a policy of getting workers back into offices, as well opening all schools to all pupils in September.

Understanding the risk each of us faces each day from the virus is critical to feeling safe enough to venture out to work, eat or shop. Apps and innovations which help us build that understanding are likely to be the next big tech innovation, while data is also key to research into how we can better deal with and contain the virus generally.

The more society is able to stay open as we move through this pandemic, the better for businesses, for individuals and everything from our economy to the government’s finances and our collective mental health.

Keeping our country open for business relies heavily on data – so the more we can share, in a trusted way, to make this happen, the better for all of us.