In the new COVID-19-enforced normal of never-ending video calls (Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout, you name it, we talk on it!), how many of your conversations start with an inevitable dive into how we’re now dealing with #lockdownlife? Also, how many of these chats are you having with your video on (which obviously means a nice shirt paired with the most comfortable of ancient shorts), and then on to the next conversation topic: showing off or bemoaning your work space, or maybe even a tour of the home and glimpse of the family?

Forced into work from home and virtual learning situations, have we become falsely secure and assured of some level of privacy behind the safety of our screens? Has this made us comfortable with sharing things with colleagues (let’s face it, they aren’t all friends!) that we ordinarily wouldn’t have shared before? There are articles out there on everything from “best practices for a zoom meeting” to “dating in a pandemic”, and the common theme throughout is that people are getting very comfortable sharing things they probably wouldn’t have done so before. 

In tandem with all of this, there are contact tracing apps out there that are collecting various levels of data in the name of protecting us and ensuring public health and safety. This ranges from location tracking for contact tracing to users’ recent health history, and some have already moved into the realm of pairing this with facial recognition. all. Many people opted in  for sharing this information because at the end of the day, this data might help us identify something to help save lives. So we share and we share, and we share some more. 

When used to identify a person’s recent movement and history, the data collection seems benign, even benevolent. What greater cause is there than to protect yourself and your loved ones? But over time, this data could possibly paint a much bigger picture: your movement, your shopping patterns, the location of your friends/family/favorite hangout — and overlaid with health information, that’s quite a lot of data out there.

With data breaches happening far more than anyone would like (a casual Googling of “data breach” will provide some fun reading!), how do we know that this data being captured is being properly stored, and eventually will be properly handled (ie. disposed of)? Or will people emerge from this pandemic even more vulnerable than before?   

The pandemic is going to end, eventually. But until then, a few things come to mind, especially when it comes to protecting ourselves and our loved ones:

  1. A lot of people are being forced to work and communicate in a way that may not be normal for them, i.e. video calls and digital chats. Not everyone is used to this, and it’s good to remember that safe and best practices may not be known to everyone. 
  2. Phishing scams are on the rise, as with this new normal comes the rise in government and health bodies calling individuals to check on health/movement history. As we become more comfortable sharing, we are also less guarded when asked something of a personal nature. Our elderly are now particularly vulnerable; how do we teach them almost overnight how to discern a legitimate check-in call versus a call from someone who is trying to steal their personal information?
  3. As we log into various locations with QR codes and apps, sometimes we are asked to sign in on good old-fashioned paper sheets. What’s happening with those? Are those also being carefully disposed of, or are our names and Identification Card (IC) numbers floating around in a pile someplace?

At the end of the day, the truth is that a lot of apps and sites already collect data about you via various mobile/digital signals. But the difference here is that that is usually anonymous and linked to a “cookie” or “ Identifier for Advertisers ”(IDFA), while the type of data collection we’re seeing now is actually linked to you – the person – the individual. 

As part of an organization like the IAB SEA+India, we can proactively think about how to communicate best practices during this time, and help to prepare consumers and companies alike on how to address these potential challenges before they become liabilities.  

We can take action in the form of identifying apps and sites that are a platform for conversation (and seeing a significant rise during this time), and encouraging them to advise their users on best practices (please do not share your home address with the person you just met!). We can also collaborate with other industry leaders and government bodies on raising awareness that proper storing and eventual purging of personal data that’s been collected for a specific reason has to be done.  

There is also an opportunity here to raise the level of our overall digital literacy – helping society as a whole to “level up” and understand the best ways to navigate the digital landscape. As more of us understand how data can be used, I believe that more of us will be increasingly conscious of protecting our privacy and insisting that those who collect information, even with the most positive of intentions, do so with the end in sight. 

With great power comes great responsibility. 

This thought leadership article was written by IAB SEA+India Data & AnalyticsCommittee Member

  • Genelle Hung, Demand Lead, APAC – MoPub, Twitter, Inc.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not represent the views of Twitter or MoPub