Privacy & Pandemics Virtual Workshop: The Role of Mobile Apps


The Future of Privacy Forum and the Israel Tech Policy Institute recently convened a briefing with experts from government, academia, and leading companies about the use of mobile apps related to the COVID-19 public health crisis, and how data protection and ethics can be managed when sensitive health and location data are collected. The briefing featured privacy experts from around the world, including: 

  • Sarit Deshe, Head of Nationwide Information Projects Department, Ministry of Health Israel 
  • Talia Agmon, Deputy Chief Legal Counsel, Ministry of Health Israel  
  • Professor Michael Birnhack, Associate Dean for Research, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University 
  • Hyunik Kim, Deputy Director, Planning & Management Division, and Head, International Cooperation for Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC), Republic of Korea  
  • Riddhiman Das, Co-Founder & CEO, TripleBlind (U.S.) 
  • Steve Penrod, Vice President of Product Development, TripleBlind (U.S.) 
  • Bart Preneel, leads COSIC (Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography group) in the Department of Electrical Engineering at KU Leuven, Belgium 
  • Leaders from the Future of Privacy Forum and the Israel Tech Policy Institute, including FPF CEO Jules Polonetsky, Managing Director of the Israel Tech Policy Institute Limor Shmerling Magazanik, FPF Director of Technology and Privacy Research Christy Harris, Policy Counsel Polly Sanderson, and FPF Managing Director for Europe Rob van Eijk.  

Participants discussed the privacy implications and utility of storing data locally versus centrally; strategies for improving the accuracy of data; promotion of apps to ensure sufficient scale; and how to assess the usefulness of certain data types (such as Bluetooth data) for public health purposes. Insights from the discussion will inform FPF’s ongoing work with stakeholders to identify best practices and policy recommendations for decisionmakers. 

To complement the virtual workshop, FPF released a detailed comparison of specific objectives and methods employed by “contact tracing” apps and software development kits (SDKs) that have been developed in various countries and regions to help public and private entities mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Stakeholders interested in how leading apps are collecting and using data in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and policymakers considering the use of one of these apps will want to take a look at the chart. 

Through a series of original Privacy & Pandemics publications and resources, FPF is exploring the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic poses to existing ethical, privacy, and data protection frameworks. This series is intended to help governments, researchers, companies, and other organizations navigate essential privacy questions regarding the collection and use of data in response to a global pandemic.