Open sharing of clinical, epidemiological and virological data between governments and researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic is shaping international public-health strategies. However, digital data from billions of mobile phones and footprints from web searches and social media remain largely inaccessible to researchers and governments. These data could support community surveillance, contact tracing, social mobilization, health promotion, communication with the public and evaluation of public-health interventions.
We urge technology companies to work with researchers and governments to find ways to share their data rapidly in a legal, proportionate, ethical and privacy-preserving manner. The public’s consent to sharing personal data for the common good can be obtained dynamically through existing mobile applications, putting the public at the heart of the public-health response to COVID-19. We ask governments and funders to create new centres of digital public health to deploy and evaluate proven innovations.
The technology sector has benefited from massive public investment in the Internet, the GPS and mobile technologies. Now is the time for tech to invest in society.