BIG TECH’S BIG ROLE IN THE PANDEMIC BATTLE

On March 26, 2020

The world faces a crisis of unprecedented proportions as COVID-19 (aka, coronavirus) rapidly spreads across the globe. As the numbers of infected rise, Facebook, Google, and other tech companies have come forward to lend their expertise and resources.

Here are some of the ways High Tech is helping:

Facebook is providing user data to help predict the next hotspot. Facebook is also donating $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for small businesses, and giving a $1,000 bonus to each of its 45,000 employees. Further, Facebook banned ads and commercial listings for hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, masks, and COVID-19 test kits. Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management at Facebook told NBC, “This is another step to help protect against inflated prices and predatory behavior we’re seeing.” Facebook is also combating the spread of coronavirus misinformation with accurate information from health organizations by putting the latest news and updates about the pandemic at the top of the news feeds. The new feature was built in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and will include real-time health updates and offer resources and tips on how to stay healthy and support your family and community.

Google is offering location data from its Maps app, which may help understand social distancing requirements. Google also launched a website offering education, prevention and local resources related to Covid-19. The website has videos, a global map showing confirmed cases by country, and information about Google’s other relief efforts such as the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which is raising monies to mitigate the virus’s spread by supporting medical facilities and personnel.

Amazon is significantly expanding its U.S. workforce, opening 100,000 new positions in its fulfillment centers and delivery networks to keep up with the surge of demand. They also prioritized household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into their fulfillment centers. They also stepped-up efforts to ensure no one artificially raises prices on basic need products during the pandemic. Their Whole Foods Market division adjusted store hours to accommodate customers who are age 60 and over, who are invited to shop beginning one hour before the store opens to the general public. Also, Amazon is investing $20 million to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed understanding and detection and other innovative diagnostic solutions to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks.

ServiceNow has released emergency response Apps to help government agencies and enterprises manage complex emergency response workflows—these apps are available free of charge. Jennifer McNamara, Chief Information Officer of Washington State’s Department of Health told BusinessInsider, “By leveraging ServiceNow’s Now Platform, we were able to digitize processes that allowed us to quickly resource critical Incident Management Team positions. This automated a manual and labor-intensive process that was fraught with errors while also providing real-time visibility into resource allocations.”

Expanding Medical Coverage

The White House caught on to telemedicine’s potential to mitigate and contain by expanding Medicare coverage for digital doctor visits and basically removed privacy hurdles so doctors may use popular video apps such as Apple’s FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook Messenger’s video chat feature. But it prohibits doctors from using apps that have public broadcasting features such as Facebook Live, Twitch and TikTok.

“The reality is that clinical brick-and-mortar medicine is rife with the possibility of virus exposure,” Dr. Jonathan Wiesen told Time. “The system we have in place is one in which everyone who is at risk is potentially transmitting infection. That is petrifying.” Instead, he’s suggesting people could call telemedicine centers and describe their symptoms to doctors who could determine whether they need COVID-19 -testing—without exposing anyone else. The data could then be mined to predict the movements of the epidemic in a population.

Conclusion

Doctors and patients will have easier ways to connect, emergency responders better ways to communicate, scientists better data to analyze. New and better ways to combat the virus are here. But these High Tech solutions come with the risk that these services could be used without protection, that companies will keep data in insecure ways. Hackers, who are already preparing for a surge of digital doctor visits, could easily search medical records.

Everyone understands that this pandemic is unprecedented and calls for novel action. However, lawmakers want to protect consumers and customers from companies that seek to profiteer off people in desperate times, as well as protect public entities and private organizations from malicious actions such as ransomware attacks. If privacy can be protected and security assured, then big tech certainly has a big role to play in helping stop the crisis.