Focus |

COVID-19 and digital privacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the development of digital public health and medical applications, and forced governments to use emergency powers to access health data. This focus of Reviews, Perspectives and comments considers the myriad ways in which digital applications have been applied in the pandemic and the spectrum of privacy concerns for health data.


The rapid rollout of digital health approaches in the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has neglected to prioritize data privacy and is a missed opportunity for building users’ trust in these technologies for future outbreaks and quotidian healthcare.

Editorial | | Nature Medicine

Reviews & Perspectives

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an accelerated development of applications for digital health, including symptom monitoring and contact tracing. Their potential is wide ranging and must be integrated into conventional approaches to public health for best effect.

Review Article | | Nature Medicine


Mobile apps provide a convenient source of tracking and data collection to fight against the spread of COVID-19. We report our analysis of 50 COVID-19-related apps, including their use and their access to personally identifiable information, to ensure that the right to privacy and civil liberties are protected.

Comment | | Nature Medicine

As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, teams around the world are now advocating for a new approach to monitoring transmission: tapping into cellphone location data to track infection spread and warn people who may have been exposed. Here we present data collected in Israel through this approach so far and discuss the privacy concerns, alternatives and different ‘flavors’ of cellphone surveillance. We also propose safeguards needed to minimize the risk for civil rights.

Comment | | Nature Medicine

The past decade has allowed the development of a multitude of digital tools. Now they can be used to remediate the COVID-19 outbreak.

Comment | | Nature Medicine

Reuse of patient data for research purposes could be very fruitful. However, too seldom are those whom the data are from—the patients—involved in how their data should be used.

World View | | Nature Medicine

Contact-tracing apps could help keep countries open before a vaccine is available. But do we have a sufficient understanding of their efficacy, and can we balance protecting public health with safeguarding civil rights? We interviewed five experts, with backgrounds in digital health ethics, internet law and social sciences.

Q&A | | Nature Machine Intelligence


Analysis of data from a smartphone-based app designed for large-scale tracking of potential COVID-19 symptoms, used by over 2.5 million participants in the United Kingdom and United States, shows that loss of taste and smell sensations is predictive of potential SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Brief Communication | | Nature Medicine