Eroding Trust: Contact Tracing Technologies in Israel

Illustration: Moran Barak

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Contact tracing technologies can potentially help health organizations and governments stop the spread of COVID-19 by finding and isolating people who have been in contact with Coronavirus carriers. However, they also pose serious threats to privacy, as they are based on identifying and analyzing contacts between individuals. Also, their effectiveness depends heavily on people’s behavior, particularly on the proportion of people who install and use the technology. This behavior may be influenced by people’s perceptions of the technologies’ utility or by their perceptions of the potential privacy threats that may originate from personal information collection. The fast pace of the deployment of these technologies puts individuals into “privacy shock”: the need to immediately form an attitude regarding a new privacy threat and to determine the tradeoff between privacy and utility.

This report analyzes two contact tracing technologies that were introduced by the Israeli government during the early days of the Coronavirus crisis: a privacy-preserving mobile application (“HaMagen,” meaning “the Shield” in Hebrew) and centralized cellular tracking by Israel’s General Secret Service (“The Tool”). The two technologies provide a natural experiment that examines how the characteristics of surveillance technologies shape user’s “privacy shock.” It is explored how these characteristics affect the way people interact with these technologies, as well as their overall success. In this case study, primarily the technologies’ architectures well as the privacy threats they pose are analyzed. Then the possible effects that privacy concerns have on the success of contact tracing technologies are highlighted.

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Policy Paper - Eroding Trust: Contact Tracing Technologies in Israel

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