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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

[Image: Tape measures via Kottke]


Can contract tracing apps be effective and respect privacy?

Coronavirus: Apple and Google team up to contact trace Covid-19 and a first version of the API will be available to developers soon. They plan to add monitoring at the operating system level and make it available to third parties in a way that preserves strong privacy. But this is problematic for UKGov’s/NHS’s plans because they’d like to handle the data around contact tracing differently. 

Roughly speaking: if governments make apps that don't use the Apple/Google approach, they'll be able to gather more info for their various contact tracing plans, but the apps will only work when foregrounded, and governments will have a massive a "distribution" challenge to get users to download and then diligently use the apps. Or if governments write apps that use the Apple/Google approach, the apps will work even when backgrounded in the same way that the operating system's health/activity tracking apps do, but due to Apple/Google’s strong position on privacy, the apps won't send certain data back to the governments. Look, Big Tech cos taking a stronger line on privacy than governments! 

(Not that the Apple/Google plan is perfect: The proposed system is anonymous but vulnerable to trolls and spoofing and Apple Google contact tracing effort raises fascinating new questions.) 

So: NHS in standoff with Apple and Google over coronavirus tracing. Who will win? You’d guess global distribution: Germany flips to Apple-Google approach on smartphone contact tracing.

But characterising that debate as “Choose one of health OR privacy” doesn’t seem quite right. We can't cure COVID-19 by giving up our right to privacy

“The lessons many of us learned [after 9/11] were that the benefits in the fight against terrorism were marginal, while the privacy and data security consequences were large and lasting. Further, we learned that because there was little transparency in the deliberations, people lost trust in public institutions”.

And Privacy versus health is a false trade-off argues that eroded privacy and weak public health responses can both be traced back to “exploitative structures that govern our social and political lives”. Addressing those - finding ways to be fairer, more transparent, more democtratic - would provide both safety and privacy. It signs off:

“we will fail to rise to the challenge this moment presents if we ignore just how democratizing an experience the pandemic might be: the way the virus cuts across lines of privilege and power (even if capacities to shield ourselves and access medical care do not), making clear that our fates are bound up with those of one another. To respond to both the COVID-19 crisis and the broader social breakdowns that got us here will require channeling these hard-won insights into retooling a number of institutions to be more democratic and egalitarian. Our data infrastructures should be no exception.”

The other question is how effective contact tracing apps can ever be, and Contact Tracing in the Real World and Why Bluetooth apps are bad at discovering new cases of COVID-19 are good reads on that.


Queues again

Whatever the virus exit strategy ends up being, it’ll involve careful measured distancing and careful queueing, and perhaps carefully monitored travel and contacts. Last week we talked about online supermarket queues. People are spending a lot of time seeing what the Morrisons queue looks like, which seems like a poor use of time. You could imagine some fixes for queueing. 

  1. add information to the page - now time spent in the queue is informative and higher value. 
  2. someone makes a service that frequently checks the online supermarket queue - Supermarket Check In does this for offline supermarkets, and Shopping Slot does the same for four online supermarkets. Now you only join the queue when it is short. 
  3. Imagine that there was a big tech company that was good at doing cloud computing and also had an interest in doing supermarkets… they could probably think of some ways to make the queueing problem go away.

Pharmacy changes

Pharmacy chains are redeploying head office staff to stores

Costco will offer prescription delivery in the US through grocery deliveryco Instacart.


Economy vs climate change

Thanks to the corona lockdown, there’s less car travel and cities and towns have better air pollution levels. The price of oil futures is collapsing (partly because we’re using less of it). You can hear more birds than at the start of March and the air is clearer. But the economy is teetering. So coronavirus is demonstrating the tension between the “business as usual” economy and climate change clearer.

We will have to make difficult and bold choices and tradeoffs to achieve a zero carbon economy that mitigates climate change. But coronavirus also shows us that we are capable of action and change on the large scale that’s needed.


Other news

Food finds new routes to market: "Food on the Table is a completely new experience from us and one that does just what it says it does. It puts food, that was destined for restaurants, on your table during these extremely difficult times."

Amazon-owned Whole Foods is quietly tracking its employees with a heat map tool that ranks which stores are most at risk of unionising - this sounds bad.

Denmark is excluding from its aid programmes companies which pay out dividends, buy back own shares or are registered in tax havens.

The Apple Store index: here’s someone who has more confidence in Apple than in their government on whether it’s safe to get the US high street economy moving again. 

Pizza parlour making face masks - adaptation. 

How do advertisers see the virus? - all the same way perhaps, but that’s ok: “if they have the media booked anyway and if they sell online then saying 'thank you' and 'hang in there' and 'stay home' is not a bad idea.”

Theory of Zoom fatigue - sounds about right.


Co-op Digital news

Tips for joining a digital team during lockdown (and how colleagues can help).

Annual results: Co-operation is working.

Federation House’s online events:


Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to the newsletter’s typist @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend!

If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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