COVID-19 and Geoprivacy

What are people’s opinions about COVID-19 mitigation measures harnessing sensitive location information (e.g., digital contact tracing)? How do those opinions differ between people living in South Korea and the U.S.? We answered these questions by using data collected through an online survey. 

Specifically, we investigated how people’s acceptance, privacy concerns, and perceptions of social benefits are different in ten COVID-19 mitigation methods (Kim & Kwan, 2021). These methods include digital contact tracing, GPS location tracking, self-quarantine monitoring, location tracking that uses patients’ credit card usage records, travel certificate, e-wristband, etc. Three hundred six people participated in the online survey (188 from the U.S. and 118 from South Korea).

Here are some interesting results:

1) Self-quarantine monitoring with an e-wristband has the lowest acceptance rate and the most severe privacy concerns in the U.S.

2) Although 81% of South Koreans accept a digital contact tracing method using credit card history, only 33% of U.S. people do, indicating the most considerable difference between the two countries. 

3) About 50% of U.S. people consider a travel certificate policy acceptable, and 60% of people living in South Korea accept it. The travel certificate is a policy that people must carry a valid travel certificate (i.e., not in self-quarantine) when using public places. The travel certificate is one of the policies that U.S. people report relatively high acceptance.

4) South Koreans (compared to people in the U.S.) and people with a stronger collectivist orientation tend to have higher acceptance.

At this point, you may ask the following three questions:

First, why does people’s acceptance differ regarding the COVID-19 mitigation methods? Our results indicate that people have lower acceptance for methods that use more sensitive and private information.

Second, why does people’s collectivistic orientation affect their acceptance? One possible explanation is that individuals with a stronger collectivist orientation prioritize their communities’ benefits and welfare and thus perceive higher social benefits for the mitigation measures.

Third, why is the acceptance of South Koreans higher than that of U.S. people? Although several other factors can explain this difference, one possible explanation for this is that South Koreans have less concern about their privacy culturally.

These findings advance our understanding of the vital role of geographic context and culture and people’s experiences of the mitigation measures applied to control a previous pandemic. Further, our study is critical because it timely contributes to the ongoing discussions about geoprivacy and geospatial ethics issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Location Tech Task Force and EthicalGEO Initiative organized by the American Geographical Society (AGS) and online participatory forums (e.g., Ethical Research in the Age of COVID-19: A Participatory Forum) hosted by the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) play significant roles in stimulating the discussion among researchers, citizens, private sectors, and policymakers.

We hope that our study can contribute to the fruitful progress of those discussions, which may eventually help us fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original Paper: Kim, Junghwan; Kwan, Mei-Po. 2021. “An Examination of People’s Privacy Concerns, Perceptions of Social Benefits, and Acceptance of COVID-19 Mitigation Measures That Harness Location Information: A Comparative Study of the U.S. and South Korea” ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 10, no. 1: 25.

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