Call for Actions: Building Ethical Civic Tech Infrastructure for “Smart” Collective Actions Against Global Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the world. So far, we know over 320,000 people to have become infected; of these, more than 14,000 are now dead. In the face of this unprecedented global crisis, decisions are being made with possible enduring consequences. They may fundamentally reshape global society.

Two different approaches have shown some success in limiting the spread of the virus. The first is a physical lockdown of entire societies, a path pursued by the Chinese government and now many Western countries. The problem of this approach is that it comes with enormous economic and social collateral damage. It took more than eight weeks for China to gain control over the disease. After only two weeks of a similar approach in other countries, the global economy is in a tailspin — and public health officials predict many more weeks of lockdown are necessary. The economic and social costs certainly will be catastrophic. The second approach is aggressive proactive testing and public information sharing, combined with targeted confinement. This is the approach that the South Korean government took. Less well known are the legal steps taken by the South Koren government to enable this approach; the passing of a law giving the government the power to collect private information from those who are infected. It is not hard to see some of the unintended negative consequences of this approach. The nanny state may all too easily become Big Brother.

These cannot be the only alternatives we have. Indeed we should be seeking solutions that allow individuals, healthcare providers, and governments to make smart decisions based on data without compromising individuals’ privacy. When done properly, such a socio-technical solution can offer a large-scale high-resolution data that can be used to make better decisions for containment, intervention, and resource planning by the healthcare providers and governments, while providing smart and personalized social distancing measures for all individuals who participate. Individuals in open civic society should be given the choice on how to use their private data. In short, we seek to build an ethical civic technology infrastructure that enables the public to build collective smart responses to the present, and future, global pandemic.

The technological foundation for such an ethical and civic technology infrastructure is already available in the form of a distributed personal data server. For example, the HAT (Hub of All Things) Microserver technology, created through more than £10m of UK research grant funding across 8 U.K. universities and partner institutions, offers a secure and scalable distributed architecture for storing, collecting and sharing personal data in real-time and on-demand, legally owned by individuals themselves. With such technology, individuals can exercise their legal rights to determine how to use and license their own personal data with websites and applications to create collective solutions while preserving their own privacy and agency.

“We seek to build an ethical civic technology infrastructure that enables the public to build collective smart responses to the present, and future, global pandemic.”

Case Western Reserve University’s xLab, Cleveland Clinic’s Hwang Lab, the Ethical Tech Alliance and HAT-LAB, sponsored by Dataswift, are organizing a global hackathon to build ethical civic technology solutions for coronavirus pandemic on April 4–5, 2020. Everyone can help, whether you are a developer, a designer, a data scientist, a scholar, an epidemiologist, a business leader, or simply a concerned citizen. You can find more about it at:

Join the Slack Channel at:




reflection on technology, design, and innovation in everyday experiences

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Youngjin Yoo

Youngjin Yoo

Professor @CaseWeatherhead @cwru Visiting Professor @LSE and @WBS #digital #innovation #organizationalgenetics #design

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