The COVID-19 pandemic has brought drastic changes to our lifestyle, with restrictions on face-to-face interactions and business operations. As a result, we had to adapt to the digital world and embrace the new normal, whether we liked it or not. Words like remote-jobs, telemedicine, and contact tracing became part of our daily vocabulary, and these practices are still with us today.
During the pandemic, we did almost all our shopping online, held virtual meetings, and consulted doctors through health apps. Governments developed contact tracing apps to protect their citizens, locating infected persons and those at a high risk of manifesting virus symptoms. However, these changes have also had an impact on our privacy and attitudes towards it.
The need to share data, including medical history and excess contact information, increased amid the pandemic. Unfortunately, bad actors took advantage of this situation, leading to a hike in the theft of sensitive data. Companies also violated our privacy, even though they outlined data privacy policies. We also contributed to the problem by downloading different apps without much thought and giving away personal information.
Being in a democratic state where every action is subject to scrutiny makes citizens confident when giving their data to the government. However, the scrutiny levels during the pandemic and post-pandemic may erode that confidence. Evidence from a heavily restricted system like China has shown how the government can use data to track down dissidents, police citizens, and deny basic human rights.
The profit of online stores shot up exponentially during the pandemic, with many inducing panic buying in customers. This led to customers sharing their data with unknown and untrusted online stores, giving them vast amounts of information. Online sellers then used this information to study customer behavior, analyze them, and dictate what they want customers to buy, eroding consumer trust.
In the health industry, the pandemic caused a seismic shift from physical to virtual diagnostics, leading to information gathering by medical apps. Unfortunately, some apps sell this data to companies that use it to predict disease demographics and make accurate meta-analyses about the effect of COVID-19. They also sell respondents' data to research organizations, exploiting citizens who gave themselves away unknowingly.
To adjust to the new normal, we must reduce the volume of information we share with companies, and businesses must collect and use customer data transparently. The government should also use its citizens' data fairly.