The COVID-19 pandemic has put health systems, economies and societies under unprecedented strain, calling for innovative approaches. Scotland’s government, like those elsewhere, is facing difficult decisions about how to deploy digital technologies and data to help contain, control and manage the disease, while also respecting citizens’ rights. This paper explores the ethical challenges presented by these methods, with particular emphasis on mobile apps associated with contact tracing.

Drawing on UK and international experiences, it examines issues such as public trust, data privacy and technology design; how changing disease threats and contextual factors can affect the balance between public benefits and risks; and the importance of transparency, accountability and stakeholder participation for the trustworthiness and good-governance of digital systems and strategies.

Analysis of recent technology debates, controversial programmes and emerging outcomes in comparable countries implementing contact tracing apps, reveals sociotechnical complexities and unexpected paradoxes that warrant further study and underlines the need for holistic, inclusive and adaptive strategies.

The paper also considers the potential role of these apps as Scotland transitions to the ‘new normal’, outlines challenges and opportunities for public engagement, and poses a set of ethical questions to inform decision-making at multiple levels, from software design to institutional governance.


Creative Commons: Attribution (CC-BY) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Cite as

Pagliari, C. 2020, 'The ethics and value of contact tracing apps: International insights and implications for Scotland’s COVID-19 response:International Insights and Implications for Scotland', Journal of Global Health, 10(2), article no: 020103. https://doi.org/10.7189/jogh.10.020103

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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