Consumer Privacy in the Age of COVID-19

How the Pandemic Is Changing Data Collection

Executive Summary

As COVID-19 spreads around the world, many governments, health authorities and businesses are using technology and big data to combat the pandemic. But as these systems collect more sensitive personal information, they are also raising thorny privacy concerns.

How is technology being used to fight COVID-19?

Sentient robots, location trackers, temperature sensors, facial-recognition cameras, AI algorithms and contact-tracing apps are just some of the technologies being put in place. Though it’s too premature to know for sure, this could be a turning point in mainstreaming tracking technology.

How has the pandemic changed consumer attitudes about privacy?

Consumers have complex opinions about sharing personal data. In general, they’re more likely to share it with the government, especially if they think doing so will help keep them safe and/or healthy. The pandemic has reinforced these tendencies and increased willingness to share for societal good.

How will this affect privacy rules and regulations?

The scramble to stem the pandemic has spurred emergency initiatives to collect more data and temporarily suspend some privacy regulations. There are also rising concerns that hastily developed technology may not be secure, and that data may be mishandled or misused after the crisis is over. Legislators, regulators and privacy advocates are calling for stronger rules to protect personal information.

What implications will virus-related data have for marketers?

Many consumers are sharing their personal data for societal good, but most don’t want to share it with marketers. If anything, increased online activity during the pandemic will make consumers leerier. But changing attitudes about data collection and new privacy safeguards could ultimately help marketers develop better data practices.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report discusses how technology and big data are being used to track COVID-19 and how these initiatives could affect consumer privacy and marketing practices in the future.

KEY STAT: US consumers are willing to share a variety of personal data—including information about their health, location and online behavior—in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to a survey by CodeFuel.

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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. The Boon and Bane of Tracking Technology
  3. Consumer Attitudes: They’re Complicated
  4. Will COVID-19 Change the Privacy Landscape?
  1. Implications and Opportunities for Marketers
  2. Key Takeaways
  3. eMarketer Interviews
  4. Read Next
  1. Sources
  2. Media Gallery

Charts in This Report

Interviewed for This Report

Lenin Aboagye
Chief Security Architect
Interviewed May 4, 2020
Laura Aldridge
Vice President, Consumer Market Intelligence
Interviewed May 7, 2020
Manish Bahl
Assistant Vice President, Center for the Future of Work
Interviewed April 6, 2020
Micha Benoliel
Coalition Network
Co-Founder and President
Interviewed May 1, 2020
Jason Bernstein
Barnes & Thornburg LLP
Partner and Co-Chair of Data Security and Privacy Practice
Interviewed May 1, 2020
Albert Fox Cahn
Surveillance Technology Oversight Project
Founder and Executive Director
Interviewed May 4, 2020
Jason Cottrell
Founder and CEO
Interviewed May 6, 2020
Jeff Dachis
One Drop
Founder and CEO
Interviewed May 4, 2020
Greg Fields
Managing Director, Ventures
Interviewed May 6, 2020
Scott Godes
Barnes & Thornburg LLP
Partner and Co-Chair, Data Security and Privacy Practice
Interviewed May 1, 2020
Vikas Gupta
Wonder Workshop
Co-Founder and CEO
Interviewed May 4, 2020
Adrian Hyzler
Healix International
Chief Medical Officer
Interviewed May 5, 2020
Richard Jones
Cheetah Digital
Interviewed May 5, 2020
Nicole Killen
Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer
Interviewed May 7, 2020
Naveen Wall
Movable Ink
Associate Director, Client Strategy
Interviewed May 4, 2020
Todd Wooten
Interviewed May 5, 2020

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Victoria Petrock


Man-Chung Cheung
Research Analyst
Chris Keating
Research Director
Melissa Rosenberg
Senior Researcher
Yoram Wurmser
Principal Analyst