The institutionalization of digital public health: lessons learned from the COVID19 app

Paper by Ciro Cattuto and Alessandro Spina: “Amid the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, there has been a call to use innovative digital tools for the purpose of protecting public health. There are a number of proposals to embed digital solutions into the regulatory strategies adopted by public authorities to control the spread of the coronavirus more effectively. They range from algorithms to detect population movements by using telecommunication data to the use of artificial intelligence and high-performance computing power to detect patterns in the spread of the virus. However, the use of a mobile phone application for contact tracing is certainly the most popular.

These proposals, which have a very powerful persuasive force, and have apparently contributed to the success of public health response in a few Asian countries, also raise questions and criticisms in particular with regard to the risks that these novel digital surveillance systems pose for privacy and in the long term for our democracies.

With this short paper, we would like to describe the pattern that has led to the institutionalization of digital tools for public health purposes. By tracing their origins to “digital epidemiology”, an approach originated in the early 2010s, we will expose that, whilst there exists limited experimental knowledge on the use of digital tools for tracking disease, this is the first time in which they are being introduced by policy-makers into the set of non-clinical emergency strategies to a major public health crisis….(More)”