Has COVID-19 changed the face of tech ethics forever?

COVID-19 is influencing changes to what we consider ethical use of technology. While these changes are aimed at solving a short-term global issue, they may have permanent ramifications.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has fundamentally changed many aspects of the world economy, business, and our day to day lives. As many businesses are experiencing significant disruptions and a large portion of the global workforce finds themselves in precarious positions as a result, life as we know it, both professionally and personally, is undeniably different for the majority of us.

Within the technology space, this has been manifesting in a variety of ways, whether that is through the obligatory move towards robust remote working policies facilitated by digital technologies, or through the increased emphasis on critical digital infrastructure and networking upkeep. These technological shifts are, in fact, proving instrumental in keeping people working, business solvent, and the economy moving forward. Additionally, tech has even been instrumental in assisting with stopping the coronavirus from spreading, while giving health professionals the firepower they need in order to get ahead of the virus.

However, there are insinuations that efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus carry with them serious ramifications for privacy and ethics when it comes to the use of technology. There are technologies being used and developed right now in order to save lives and protect health services that even six months ago we would never have even considered. All of this raises key questions over the impact of relaxing privacy measures in the hopes of possibly saving lives and keeping citizens safe. Additionally, will the implementation of more invasive technological measures set a new precedent that will be carried through even after the pandemic has been thwarted?

It's a concept that has been considered countless times throughout the information age when issues of privacy and surveillance have been raised, but it's arguably never been as pragmatically relevant until now.


Tracing tech and limitations

Tech has even had a profound impact on global efforts to tackle the coronavirus in a direct way. One of the more obvious ways this is being accomplished is through things like contact tracing or tracking applications being built by some governments and public health institutions to alert citizens of the extent of their exposure. Google and Apple have even chipped in to help make this happen, announcing joint plans to build tracing tools and frameworks from which governments can build their applications.

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