Analog Virus, Digital Disease

The global pandemic has shown some extremes of rights and regulations protections. Amid the lockdowns we’ve seen privacy under sharpest attack, copyright abused, and questionable overreaches in civil society. The activities fall into three brackets: some that use Covid-19 as a cover. Some that are well-meaning but need scrutiny. Some that have never happened before and would have taken years of planning.

Even Instagram set an “out of office” on content moderation.

Governments have taken drastic steps to control populations, streaming sites have lowered stream quality to save bandwidth (and energy). The BBC pulled news broadcasts, Amazon, the “Everything Store” rumoured to generate £10,000 a SECOND reneged on the famed next day Prime delivery subscription (aka a consumer tax), and faced tough questions around the safety of their warehouse staff. No convention remained sacred. Even Instagram set an “out of office” on content moderation. A flagrant cop-out.

Unsurprisingly platforms trade on disaster in one form or another, each perfectly placed to profit from increased online activity. While raking in billions, they ask for donations. Spotify acting like a Foodbank in a supermarket, now has a “tip jar” for artists.

Spotify acting like a Foodbank in a supermarket, now has a “tip jar” for artists.

Internet Archive founder, the Multi-millionaire Brewster Kahle was so convinced rules didn’t matter that he suspended waitlists and permitted 1.4 million copyright protected books to be distributed online. The so called “Emergency Library” is tantamount to piracy as the same book can be shared 1000s of times simultaneously, resembling no library known in the history of humankind.

On-cue The Pirate Party chief dog whistler, Julia Reda has gone as far as to blame Intellectual Property for holding up a Covid-19 vaccine! And for creatives, Ms Reda reckons self-isolating creative workers should turn to Patreon, and sell via their web shops. Sell T-Shirts did we hear you say? Or was that; Spotify: 6,549 streams, Apple Music: 2,554 streams, YouTube video: 27, 027 to generate the same income as one T-Shirt, so 14 T-Shirts per day times five band members equals 1500 per month (equal to 180,650 streams). No mean feat.

The scale of the corona “cop-outs” is deep, and a tremendously long way back to platform responsibility.

The so called “Emergency Library” is tantamount to piracy as the same book can be shared 1000s of times simultaneously, resembling no library known in the history of humankind.

If the Techlash was a dream, one need only remember Cambridge Analytica to see that some of the current ideas have far reaching consequences for societies the world over.

In the current climate Disaster Capitalism has given way to overreaches and below is an in-exhaustive list of just some of the solutionist responses noted in the past weeks.

No one is discounting the seriousness of the global pandemic, unless that is when it comes to rights, or regulations and by the looks of things governments just handed the keys to society over to Platforms.


Google and Apple agree to work on a Bluetooth contact tracing app, and there’s also a pan-European effort. The apps would require Bluetooth to be enabled, but both companies considered “platform updates” to force the app onto handsets, from where users could self-report as experiencing symptoms. The upshot then that all devices within their range for the preceding period are alerted to isolate because they’ve been in contact with a potentially infected person. The dangers around privacy are obvious. There’s the question of reliability. How long would it be before a prankster colleague calls in sick, taking the entire workplace down. Just saying they have symptoms that could bring an entire company into isolation. The race to develop the app is a “rising balloon” in business terms.


A Siri-type voice assistant microphone snooping analysis tool. “Cough detection algorithm may be able to identify your cough and count the number of times you’re coughing in an hour or a day, which might be able to tell your doctors how well you’re recovering.”


A CCTV “Coronavirus Detection System” via Facial Recognition. “Thermometers on buses to detect coronavirus symptoms, which scan passenger’s faces at the entrance of the bus, and alerts the driver if an anomaly has been detected”. Similar technology is available from numerous companies, and is sold directly to public in the US.


In theory a good innovation, Samsung manufactured watches or arms bands that report if an employee at a Ford factory in Plymouth, Michigan come within two metres of a co-worker, but then: “supervisors also receive alerts and reports that can be used to monitor social distancing and clustering in the workplace”.


Arguably the most positive innovation comes from Fitbit. The volunteer led, opt-in type fitness trackers look at elevated heart rates and temperature as an early warning sign, and instruct self-isolation for the user. Not only does this deal with the issue, but does so in a collaborative way. “Smartwatches and other wearables make many, many measurements per day — at least 250,000, which is what makes them such powerful monitoring devices” say Stanford Medicine researchers who are working with Fitbit.


The Promobot informed the public around Times Square about the symptoms of coronavirus and how to prevent it from spreading, with plans for the machines to take temperatures of passers-by. Lacking a permit, the first robot was excluded from a New York park. Like delivery robots they are often monitored by even more lowly paid offshore workers than actual gig workers on site, so neither an innovation or a robot you could say. Work to be done there!


The most prevalent government snooping overreach comes via smartphone location tracking, and in some cases backdoor access to user devices. “One of the most alarming measures being implemented is in Argentina, where those who are caught breaking quarantine are being forced to download an app that tracks their location.”


Residents in Wuhan are already subject to “health certificates”, and for travel or return to work, “Immunity Passports” are mooted. Numerous countries are likely to enforce strict border entry requirements, many will go further than asking to list your socials. The airline Emirates Covid19 test is taking pre-boarding temperatures and carrying out blood analysis with 10-minute result window for passengers flying with them.


Suffice to say, every company that ever had your email has emailed with their “how to survive lockdown” tips email, with a letter from the CEO also suggesting some products they have that may help during the crisis. Add the sharing of data from health agencies to governments, cellphone providers to government and it’s safe to say GDPR is in name only for some.


Ways solutionists have come up with “limiting” the spread of corona virus while ignoring the real rights of citizens and workers are plentiful.  In prisons mention of Covid can lead to the isolation block. Liechtenstein residents have been offered Covid bracelets, work places are snooping ever deeper. The use of thermal cameras take facial recognition to new realms. In the post lockdown will DUI be joined by DWH (Driving While Hot).

This is the status a few months into the pandemic. Who knows what next?