Many experts fear that using technology like blockchain to track personal health data during the COVID-19 pandemic can threaten personal data privacy in the United States. However, others say the technology can help stop the pandemic’s spread without encroaching on privacy, as long as it’s done correctly.
“The current ethos is to give up all our personal privacy. This is problematic in the long term, and we should be prioritizing technology that can help us advance public health while preserving personal privacy,” Heather Leigh Flannery, founder and CEO of ConsensSys Health, told Forbes. “Blockchain alone does not deliver this privacy. However, this technology used in concert with two other families of technology: zero-knowledge cryptography and federated analytic and machine learning does.”
How Blockchain Can Help Citizens Socially Distance More Efficiently
Spanish researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Research of Salamanca, the University of Salamanca, and the non-profit Artificial Intelligent Research Institute collaborated to develop an app that uses artificial intelligence and blockchain to predict the spread of COVID-19.
The researchers told IEEE Spectrum that the app will help government and medical officials better understand the virus in order to make decisions about how to curb its spread. For instance, if the app reveals that the virus is spreading within a particular city or region, officials will know they need to issue stay-at-home orders and give guidance on how to protect public health.
While the app employs a subset of artificial intelligence called “Deep Intelligence” to track the disease and monitor effects, it will also use blockchain technology to make sure people are following social distancing guidelines. Through the app, everyone receives their own digital identity, so users log on using a personal key. Depending on whether or not they’ve tested positive for the virus, the app will give users licenses that show whether they can go to work, school, or stores. The app may also help researchers understand how to prevent future pandemics.
“Finally, we are trying to track the COVID-19 pandemic to predict future epidemics and pandemics. The team is monitoring microorganisms likely to trigger a future healthcare crisis. We are analyzing news outlets, scientific articles, and connecting different data sources to rapidly alert health authorities, not only related to COVID-19 but also to other viruses,” researchers Juan Manuel Corchado and Javier Prieto told IEEE Spectrum.
How Blockchain Can Ensure Data is Reliable
Jim Nasr, CEO of Acoer and former Chief Software Architect at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), designed a COVID-19 visual tracker that uses blockchain technology. The tracker features Hedera Hashgraph, a public distributed ledger technology, in order to ensure data is trustworthy.
The tool is fed data from the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and clinicaltrials.gov. A reference file of the data is then produced, which matches it to the source. Whenever data is received, it’s given a timestamp via blockchain. The timestamp securely tracks when and from where the information was retrieved. This process confirms the files are credible. Nasr told Forbes the distributed ledger technology gives the public “a tamperproof transaction log of everything that has happened on Hedera.’”
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16 April 2020. Spanish Researchers Use Blockchain and AI to Flatten the Curve. IEEE Spectrum.
Brett, Jason. 23 March 2020. How Blockchain Technology Offers ‘Computational Trust’ For Tracking The Coronavirus Outbreak. Forbes.