No green lights, no red lines – Public perspectives on COVID-19 technologies

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July 2020

Ada Lovelace Institute


No green lights, no red lines: Public perspectives on COVID-19 technologies takes lessons from Ada Lovelace Institute public engagement to assist Government and policymakers navigating difficult dilemmas when deploying data-driven technologies to manage the pandemic, and when judging what risks are acceptable to incur for the sake of greater public health.

To support technology developers and policymakers to design tools that anticipate the preferences and mitigate the legitimate concerns of the public, we have pulled relevant insights from three public deliberation projects, identifying six lessons that should be brought to bear on the design and deployment of COVID-19 technologies:

  1. Trust isn’t just about data or privacy. To be trusted, technology needs to be effective and be seen to solve the problem it is seeking to address.
  2. People’s experiences and expressions of identity matter – and are complex. Categorising individuals can be reductive and disempowering.
  3. Public health monitoring and identity systems are seen as high-stakes applications that will need to be justified as appropriate and necessary to be adopted.
  4. Tools must proactively protect against errors, harms and discrimination, with legitimate fears about prejudice addressed directly.
  5. Apps will be judged as part of the system they are embedded into – the whole system must be trustworthy, not just the data or the technology.
  6. The technologies under discussion are not viewed as neutral. They must be conceived and designed to account for their social and political nature.

These lessons from the public offer neither clear green lights nor neat red lines, but developing and deploying new technologies is not neat or easy, especially in a crisis.

It is clear from the nuance and consideration expressed by these informed publics, organised in this report, that citizens have the capacity to weigh these challenging issues.

Politicians, policymakers and technology developers will benefit by designing apps that consider the preferences and legitimate concerns of members of the public detailed here.

To create systems that work for the public, these challenges and concerns need to be acknowledged and explored, rather than discounted and silenced, and complexities must be designed in.

Download the report at the Ada Lovelace Institute