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SAGE Publications

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Social Media + Society

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The global coronavirus pandemic has raised important questions regarding how to balance public health concerns with privacy protections for individual citizens. In this essay, we evaluate contact tracing apps, which have been offered as a technological solution to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We argue that apps such as those built on Google and Apple’s “exposure notification system” should be evaluated in terms of the contextual integrity of information flows; in other words, the appropriateness of sharing health and location data will be contextually dependent on factors such as who will have access to data, as well as the transmission principles underlying data transfer. We also consider the role of prevailing social and political values in this assessment, including the large-scale social benefits that can be obtained through such information sharing. However, caution should be taken in violating contextual integrity, even in the case of a pandemic, because it risks a long-term loss of autonomy and growing function creep for surveillance and monitoring technologies.


Publisher link. Social Media + Society, Vol. 6, No. 3 (July 2020). DOI. © 2020 The Authors. Used with permission. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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