This Week in Data – March 27

This Week in Data – March 27:

Data is an incredibly powerful weapon in the global fight against COVID-19. We’ve collected the best resources and insights to help businesses take practical steps during this trying time.


Unprecedented data sharing leads to virus breakthroughs

Data hasn’t just been a weapon in helping understand who is affected by COVID-19 – it’s helping scientists understand the virus itself. Horizon, the research and innovation publication of the European Union, chronicles how the virus’ makeup was published online within days. That gave scientists around the world a head start, even allowing scientific papers to be published much faster than on a usual schedule.

NextStrain, a tool being used by scientists around the world, is even publishing weekly updates. This is a prime example of how constantly sharing information can lead us to better solutions, quicker.


“NextStrain publishes a weekly situation report that analyses these trends. The team was able to estimate that the outbreak in Iran may have been introduced by a single person, whereas at least four different introductions were responsible for the outbreak in the UK, as of 13 March.”


How to manage employee privacy during COVID-19

There has been plenty of discussion about what employers can do during this time, especially when so many people are working from home. But as TrustArc points out, there is a distinct difference between the type of data governments are allowed to collect, and what private organizations can collect. Importantly, it highlights that if an organization has an employee infected with COVID19, they should only try to hold the minimum amount of information necessary on that employee and their medical details. 


“Whatever data is collected and used in the fight against COVID-19, organizations should be upfront and transparent about what data they process for which reasons. Under almost all data protection regulations around the world, the transparency requirement is a key principle. Information should be accessible, easy to understand and include the reasons why (additional) data needs to be processed.”


Cybersecurity strategies for businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak

While it may not seem that cybersecurity is at the forefront of anyone’s mind right now, McKinsey does the due diligence and points out that all the new working from home arrangements may have vulnerabilities. To that end, CIOs have plenty of work to do. Among its suggestions: only focus on critical operating tools, test everything, monitor carefully, and balance priorities.

The virus has put many businesses on the back foot – let’s not create new cyber vulnerabilities in the process.


“If your organization has security- or technology-risk plans of any kind—such as plans for incident response, business continuity, disaster recovery, talent succession, and vendor succession—then test them right away.”


Smartphone industry to track users

One of the biggest weapons in the fight against Coronavirus is literally information: knowing where infected people are. With that in mind, The Guardian has reported there is a plan in the works for a global data sharing system that would help people – and governments – track the spread across borders. It’s an extraordinary step, and one that would have a significant impact on a post-COVID-19 world.


“One telecommunications expert, who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said GSMA would be capable of creating a global data-sharing network if mobile operators around the world agreed to share usage information.”


What are the privacy rules surrounding COVID-19?

It’s a good question to ask. Just what rules are businesses obliged to follow during times like these? TechCrunch breaks down several concerns. For instance, Donald Trump mentioned Google may be working on a COVID-19 website, and it was pointed out users on the site would be linked with a Google account, creating privacy issues. 

But this isn’t just for massive global companies. Employers everywhere are dealing with new concerns, especially with so many working from home. What are businesses allowed to do, and what are they not allowed to do, with the information they have on hand? How can they protect people?

This is a comprehensive breakdown that details privacy law and current frameworks in both the United States and Europe.


“Employers may feel under pressure to be monitoring their own staff to try to reduce COVID-19 risks right now — which raises questions about how they can contribute to a vital public health cause without overstepping any legal bounds.”


The data industry is actively helping COVID19 scientists

More good news: data regulators in the UK are actively working to help give people the tools they need to fight Coronavirus. For instance, the Information Commissioner has already updated guidelines on data controls. More importantly, they are taking into account “the current health emergency” when working with organizations. That’s a large step in making sure any data approach is malleable and takes emergencies into account.

With any luck, that approach will continue when the next crisis hits. 


“The clear message from Data Protection Authorities, not just in the UK but around the world, is that the data protection community stands ready to support the “swift and safe data sharing” that is needed now and as we move forward.”



That’s our wrap for this week. Thanks for reading – we hope you found it entertaining and informative. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these articles and anything else data related!

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Until next week,

Team Data Republic

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