How governments could track social media posts to enforce COVID-19 lockdowns

The prospect of governments deciding to track social media posts to enforce COVID-19 lockdowns is a real possibility. Government actions that would be considered privacy concerns in normal circumstances are becoming acceptable during the pandemic. Privacy commissioners around the world have said they are lifting restrictions on data protection standards, citing emergency circumstances and saving lives as a priority.

Singapore and China have shown that tracking people via their phones is an effective method of surveillance, but how far the governments will go bending the rules on data protection? And, once instituted, how much would you be willing to bet that these surveillance tactics would be responsibly be phased out after pandemic is contained?

Alfred Ng for CNET:

bitsYour posts on social media have been harvested for advertising. They’ve been taken to build up a massive facial recognition database. Now that same data could be used by companies and governments to help maintain quarantines during the coronavirus outbreak.

Ghost Data, a research group in Italy and the US, collected more than half a million Instagram posts in March, targeting regions in Italy where residents were supposed to be on lockdown. It provided those images and videos to LogoGrab, an image recognition company that can automatically identify people and places. The company found at least 33,120 people violated Italy’s quarantine orders.

Andrea Stroppa, the founder of Ghost Data, said his group has offered its research to the Italian government. Stroppa doesn’t consider the social media scraping to be a privacy concern because researchers anonymized the data by removing profile and specific location data before analyzing it. He also has public health on his mind.

The research project scraped data from 552,000 Instagram profiles in Italy and gathered 504,592 Stories posted to these accounts between the dates of March 11 and March 18… The researchers said permission to collect the data wasn’t necessary because the posts are public. Users weren’t asked to give their consent.

Governments deciding to track social media posts to enforce lockdowns? What could go wrong?

MacDailyNews Take: Benjamin Franklin said it best:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.


  1. In times of uncertainty, no matter the reason, good or bad, governments eventually evolve into dictatorships where law is top-down, no longer bottom-up, so this and similar and more intrusive apps are another tool used to track dissidents, rebels, and malcontents in a possibly upcoming martial law where individuals would have a difficult time exercizing their Constitutional guarantees. But maybe apps to help track the location of oppressors would emerge to help offset the unfair imbalance of power.

    Citizens need to remove big private money in campaigns and in lobbying to remove the core impetus and justification for Martial Law.

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