Digital tools against COVID-19: taxonomy, ethical challenges, and navigation aid

Lancet Digital Health
Aug 2020 Volume 2 Number 8e380-e440


Health Policy
Digital tools against COVID-19: taxonomy, ethical challenges, and navigation aid
Urs Gasser, Marcello Ienca, James Scheibner, Joanna Sleigh, Effy Vayena
Data collection and processing via digital public health technologies are being promoted worldwide by governments and private companies as strategic remedies for mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic and loosening lockdown measures. However, the ethical and legal boundaries of deploying digital tools for disease surveillance and control purposes are unclear, and a rapidly evolving debate has emerged globally around the promises and risks of mobilising digital tools for public health. To help scientists and policy makers to navigate technological and ethical uncertainty, we present a typology of the primary digital public health applications that are in use. These include proximity and contact tracing, symptom monitoring, quarantine control, and flow modelling. For each, we discuss context-specific risks, cross-sectional issues, and ethical concerns. Finally, recognising the need for practical guidance, we propose a navigation aid for policy makers and other decision makers for the ethical development and use of digital public health tools.