Techno-solutionism in the Corona crisis: What the contact tracing apps saga reveals about privacy, value and trust.

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Seminar given as part of the "FinTech, Values and Society" series.

The scale and impact of the coronavirus pandemic has shocked western democracies unused to dealing with major outbreaks. One of the biggest challenges for infection control has been the identification and tracking of cases and their contacts, at a scale which is not easy to achieve with conventional public health approaches. In response to this challenge, a variety of so-called ‘contact tracing’ apps began to emerge in the first quarter of 2020 and have gone through several waves of innovation and adaptation, which continues.
This talk will tell the story of these apps over the course of the pandemic, analysing the complex co-dependencies between the technologies themselves and their social, health systemic and political contexts. It will describe how the clash between techno-solutionism and privacy fundamentalism resulted in a compromise that yielded relatively little benefit for public health at great public expense, and paradoxically placed more power in the hands of global technology companies. The inconsistent relationship between the privacy features and uptake of such apps in comparable democratic countries also challenges the fetishisation of data privacy/security, in contrast to other fundamental elements of trustworthy systems, users and institutions.
Disillusionment with these apps as ‘saviour technologies’ has led to their de-prioritisation in the UK’s coronavirus response strategy, however the rise of new viral strains, coupled with the increased availability of testing and vaccination, offer new opportunities to derive value from them, provided these conditions of trust can be satisfied.
Period17 Feb 2021
Held atEdinburgh Futures Institute
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • COVID-19
  • Digital health
  • Apps
  • Digital Society
  • Digital Ethics
  • Values
  • Risk
  • Sociotechnical factors
  • Politics
  • Citizen Participation
  • Trust
  • Data Ethics
  • Culture