Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Less than half in Singapore willing to share COVID-19 results with contact tracing tech

Just 41% of Singaporeans are comfortable sharing a positive COVID-19 test result with contact tracing technology, though 55% -- the highest amongst six countries surveyed -- are willing to do so with their employer or school.

Less than half of Singaporeans are comfortable sharing a positive COVID-19 test result with contact tracing technology, though 55% -- the highest amongst six countries surveyed -- are willing to do so with their employer or school. Ironically, while respondents are hesitant to reveal test results with their government, a majority across the global sample size would want to know if someone in their immediate neighbourhood tests positive. 

Most respondents said they were comfortable sharing a positive COVID-19 test result with their doctor or public healthcare providers, with more than half in Singapore willing to do so. Just 28% of all respondents would do so with their government, revealed in a survey by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman. The study polled 3,500 respondents across Australia, Germany, Spain, the US, the UK, and Singapore, the latter of which 503 respondents were from. 

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Singapore, though, was the only country where a majority of 55% were comfortable sharing a positive test result with their employer or school. 

Respondents in the UK, US, and German were the least comfortable sharing a positive COVID-19 test result with an app that required location data but not the identity of infected individuals. In Singapore, where the government last month launched a contact tracing app, 41% were comfortable sharing a positive test result with such technology. 

Across the six markets, a majority were willing to share results of a COVID test -- be it negative or positive -- with an app only if the data was accessed by healthcare providers and the relevant authorities. Less than 20% in each country were comfortable sharing their identity or location with a publicly available app, the survey revealed. 

But while respondents were hesitant to share their personal data, the majority would want to be informed if someone in their neighbourhood tested positive, including 82% in Singapore, 80% in the US, and 69% in Germany. A majority across the board also would want to know if someone at their workplace or school had tested positive. 

Oliver Wyman Forum COO Ana Kreacic said: "The fight against COVID-19 raises fundamental questions about personal data and privacy. While people are hungry for information about the pandemic and cases of infection near them, most only support sharing their personal health data to a limited extent."

Countries such as China and South Korea are using mobile location tracking technology as part of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, while mobile operators in Germany, Italy, and Austria are sharing anonymised mobile location data with authorities and app developers to determine if people are complying with social distancing measures. Australia, too, is assessing what Singapore has done with its Bluetooth-based contact tracing app and has expressed interest in using the code to develop its own version.

Meanwhile, Apple and Google last week announced plans to jointly develop contact tracing technology for government health agencies via the use of Bluetooth technology, tapping mobile location data to track the spread and identify potential coronavirus hotspots. 

Such tracking efforts and the use of digital surveillance technology, however, have triggered privacy concerns, with international civil society organisations urging governments to observe human rights laws when tapping technology to contain the spread of COVID-19.

While individuals might be uncomfortable with sharing location data via their mobile phones, as revealed in the study, this could change as the pandemic advances, said Oliver Wyman's Asia-Pacific managing director Jacob Hook. "These consumer attitudes may shift, particularly if the data used is focused solely at the effort to fight the pandemic," Hook said. 

Singapore last month said it would make its contact tracing app open source so that "others may deploy their own flavours" of the app, which it called TraceTogether. It had since made the protocol, dubbed BlueTrace, and the OpenTrace reference implementation available on GitHub. Some 1 million users have downloaded the TraceTogether app since it was launched. 

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