The corona virus crisis and its digital implications

The corona virus crisis and its digital implications

The emergence of Corona Virus is related to a number of areas that can be explored to show its multiple consequences. The virus has made people consider its digital implications, among others, and notions such as “digital health” and “digital epidemiology” have come quickly to the fore. The worrying news, however, is the disease brings great risks for human rights, raising serious concerns about the proper implementation of freedom of expression, privacy and data protection. According to Amnesty International and others, activists have been detained, harassed, and intimidated by the authorities for the content on the spread of the virus that they posted online. In addition, authorities have resorted to surveillance technology to track infected individuals and quarantine them. Cybercriminals exploit current difficulties and take advantage of human fears and spread malicious PDF and Word documents, as well as mp4 files, containing misleading information about the coronavirus. For instance, recipients of spam emails in Japan, with Emotet malware, informing individuals about the propagation of the coronavirus, were asked to download a document with additional information on the matter, thus allowing hackers to steal sensitive data and demand ransomware.

Recent reports provide evidence that tech companies and medical and scientific institutions worldwide use AI, trying to halt the expansion of the epidemic. China’s top tech giants have opened their AI and cloud computing solutions to researchers for free to use the full potential of these technologies to predict the course of development and find a vaccine for the virus. Days before the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert on the outbreak, a Canadian company called BlueDot had already warned of the disease. A group of researchers has also applied AI to detect an existing drug that might limit the virus’s ability to infect people. There are examples of AI being deployed in the  form of tiny robots serving food and providing medical help to quarantined people in China, or as chatbots that screen individuals and tell them whether they should be evaluated in case of possible infection. Interestingly, blockchain technology can also contribute to the fight against coronavirus. It can record and track all the donations to combat current disaster and provide transparency to all stakeholders.

Data collection in particular has enabled the prediction and identification of the pandemic. In addition, data visualization and data sharing have become of great importance for raising awareness, monitoring and risk assessment. The Maryland-based Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University has created an online tool that brings together data from several official bodies that include WHO and centers for disease control and prevention in China, the U.S., and Europe. “The dashboard is intended to provide the public with an understanding of the outbreak situation as it unfolds, with transparent data sources,” the CSSE states on its website.

More data on the issue, however, does not necessarily mean more balanced and accurate policies. Very often, especially in dealing with risks, we need ample knowledge about the context and references to make grounded conclusions whether measures are proportional to risks.

While some predictions show that the effect of the coronavirus on the global economy will be negative, digital economy is flourishing. The value of the most popular cryptocurrency – Bitcoin – has increased by 30% since December 2019. The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a surge in teleworking since companies have requested employees to work from home fearing they may fall victims of the virus. Due to the health restrictions imposed on cities, people have resorted to purchasing their goods online. Some reports mention boosting of the business activity of e-commerce companies in China.

Together with these optimistic social outcomes misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak is also gaining momentum. Reacting to this, attempts to regulate virus-related digital content and halt the expansion of false information have been initiated by both the WHO and Facebook and Google.

Last but not least, the crisis can prove beneficial, accelerating digital transformations in health institutions. This observation is particularly relevant for WHO and other global health organizations. Public expectations are that the disease will streamline digitalisation in their work.


Compiled by Media 21 Foundation from

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