Hi <<First Name>>, 

I hope this finds you safe and sanitised. This week we’re taking a deep dive into the ethical debate around COVID-tracking tools. We also round-up the latest in tech for good vs. coronavirus resources. We’re getting great engagement from you all, and would love it if you passed us onto your friends in the tech for good community and beyond. Here’s the link to subscribe.

Yours from home, 

Will (Tech for Good Global Team)

What’s happened in the world of tech for good since our last newsletter:

1. To track or not to track? Location data vs. the coronavirus 👣🛰️

Apple and Google are joining forces to develop a mass contact tracing platform, NHSX is testing a coronavirus-tracking app and three US local governments adopted a privacy-first contact tracing tool developed at MIT. Hence, the big question in tech ethics this week is whether or not we should open the box on mass location tracking

On the one hand, this is an unprecedented crisis for which tech tools could be life-saving. The Director of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US claims that 'very aggressive' contact tracing is needed for society to return to normal. South Korea seems to have successfully ‘flattened the curve’ through near-universal contact tracing coupled with widespread testing and reporting. Contact tracing looks to be a helpful tool in managing the crisis, albeit one that is only effective with widespread testing. What’s more, big tech companies already hold this information about you for commercial reasons, the incursion is nothing new. 

Mass contact tracing, however, opens up a can of worms with respect to privacy, security, the risk of function creep and the question of whether it will be scaled back again. Firstly, Digital Research Fellow Tony Roberts sets why we should be wary of who is implementing these tools. This may amplify a disquieting overlap between the tools of surveillance capitalists and disciplinary authorities. Not only will this feed the power of big tech but it may also usher in a disturbing new normal in post-COVID governance, largely because enhanced surveillance powers may be hard to scale back. Critics point to the persistence of ‘temporary’ powers authorised in the US Patriot Act, and how their function expanded from counter-terrorism to mass surveillance. With contact-tracing, experts are already pointing out its privacy weak points. The UK has existing laws requiring that location data provided to governments be aggregated and anonymised, although ministers are seeking the power to de-anonymise users ‘if deemed proportionate’. Finally, contact-tracing plays into fears that COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to ramp up surveillance measures worldwide - as this 28-country comparative analysis sets out.  

How can we find the right balance between using all available tools to tackle the crisis whilst maintaining robust ethical guidance? Here are some suggested principles - tweet us if you have more to suggest: 

One day this will all blow over. Let’s set the tone for a more people-powered and inclusive digital governance now. 

2. Zooming in on Video Conferencing Software 📺

In a recent article, Tech Analyst Benedict Evans likens lockdown to a giant forced experiment. Videoconferencing has been around for over a decade now, but it is now our main form of professional communication. Zoom emerged as the dominant tool in this space, but this has turned the spotlight on their security and privacy policies. 

Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier is one of several voices airing concern about the civilian and professional implications of Zoom’s expansion, but concern pre-dates the COVID crisis: in 2019, part of a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission against Zoom noted that 

‘Zoom intentionally designed their web conferencing service to bypass browser security settings and remotely enable a user’s web camera without the consent of the user. As a result, Zoom exposed users to the risk of remote surveillance, unwanted video calls, and denial-of-service attacks.’

Zoom is facing three key pressures: hackers are taking advantage of their security weaknesses, with thousands of passwords and email addresses from Zoom accounts already on sale; consumers are taking legal action against non-consensual data-sharing with Facebook, and shareholders are suing Zoom for ‘overstating’ their security risks (*tiny violin*).  Zoom may be in the spotlight, but competing software tools are often equally problematic. But ethically (and legally) robust, open-source, and/or encrypted alternatives are both possible and available, such as Signal, Jitsi Meet and Starleaf. The Guardian's Kari Paul sets out the pros and cons of video conferencing tools. It may be time to nudge your organisation into checking what it is sharing. If you or your organisation are continuing to use Zoom, Mozilla Foundation compiled some helpful tips to make your Zoom gatherings more private

Source: Giphy

3. COVID Response Round-up 💪

Each episode, we share a quick summary of resources and learnings on how the tech for good community is stepping up to the challenges posed by the coronavirus. As ever, we’d like to direct you to the unrivalled Coronavirus Tech Handbook. Additionally:


📣 Opportunities 📣

  1. To keep track of the many coronavirus-related funding opportunities, here is a live spreadsheet
  2. IBM opened a ‘call for code’ - they are seeking open-source technology to build solutions that can provide crisis communication, remote education, and community cooperation (Apr 27).
  3. Afrotech Fest is offering small grants to help families get and stay connected, they are also on the lookout for donations. 
  4. Mozilla Foundation announced a COVID-19 Solutions Fund. It awards of up to $50,000 each to open source technology projects which are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  5. The Gates Foundation made $5m available for Digital Health Innovations (Apr 22). 
  6. Irancubator 2.0 is looking for teams creating digital products and services to promote social good and civil liberties in Iran.
  7. Up to £50,000 in grant funding is available for tech for good startups via the Skoll Venture Fund (May 3). 
  8. Civitates opened proposals for core grants to strengthen public interest journalism organisations across Europe (Apr 30).
  9. London and Partners & Impact Hub are looking for businesses accelerating progress towards the Global Goals for their Impact Cohort for sustainable businesses
  10. Solve MIT opened a series of challenges addressing global problems, up to $1m available in prize funding. Include a challenge on how to beat pandemics (Jun 18). They have also opened applications for their $5m Elevate Prize (Jun 29). 
  11. Digital Leaders are looking for UK Tech for Good Champions to organise events between October 12-16th as part of ‘Digital Transformation Week’.

What’s going on? 📅

Check out the tech for good near you map

Reply here to let us know what’s going on in your corner of the tech for good community. We’ll make sure to add your tech for good events onto the list.

Working in tech for good 💼

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