US public skeptical about sharing digital data for COVID-19 control


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Even amid a pandemic, most U.S. consumers wouldn’t positively rate the use of their digital data for public health purposes, according to a new one JAMA network open Study by LDI Fellows David Grande, Nandita Mitra, Raina Merchant, David Asch and Carolyn Cannuscio. These results highlight some of the challenges of using social media and smartphone strategies, such as the contact tracking apps introduced by Google and Apple, to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In a national survey of 3,547 adults conducted in July 2020, the authors presented nine different scenarios for data exchange with health authorities and how the data would be used. None of the scenarios tested received majority support, although some scenarios were promising. The most heavily supported scenarios were the use of smartphones for digital contract tracking and for enforcing quarantines.

The study shows that personal or family COVID experiences and local COVID rates were not associated with support, but rather political ideologies. Conservatives were less likely than liberals to support digital data usage in response to COVID-19.

In almost all scenarios, racial and ethnic minorities expressed greater support than white and non-Hispanic populations. Although previous research has shown that black and Hispanic adults have more online privacy concerns than whites in certain circumstances, this increased support could reflect the unjust effects of COVID-19 on racial / ethnic minorities.

This study underscores the immense challenge facing public health officials in convincing the U.S. public to join in digital efforts to track and slow the spread of COVID-19 and future public health threats. Other countries have used digital contact tracing to combat the pandemic with some success; For example, South Korea has used digital surveillance and testing to contain the spread of COVID-19, although such tactics come at a cost for privacy and security concerns. Public health institutions that intend to use such techniques in the United States should use advertisements, trusted messengers, and other behavioral inducements to encourage public approval. Legislation may be needed to provide updated and improved protection for digital consumers and to appease a suspicious public.

Contact tracking apps prove they can save lives

More information:
David Grande et al., Consumer Views on Using Digital Data for COVID-19 Control in the United States, JAMA network open (2021). DOI: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2021.10918

Kathleen B. Cartmell et al., HPV Vaccine Communication Messages, Messenger, and Messaging Strategies, Journal of Cancer Awareness (2018). DOI: 10.1007 / s13187-018-1405-x

Provided by the University of Pennsylvania

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