Is the Health vs Privacy Debate Reaching a Point of No Return?

Recently, I was on a weekly update call with one of our food delivery startup founders. They were restarting delivery operations from a multitude of small, but FSSAI certified kitchens. To rebuild consumer confidence, they developed technology that would not only let consumers know the food they were buying was prepared in a clean environment – it would also let them know that the people making the food were healthy at the time of preparation.

As the founders ran through the list of checks and updates they were keeping on the chef and the helpers, I asked a question that brought pin-drop silence to the Microsoft Teams call, “Why don’t we install live CCTV feeds from the kitchen to our control centers and give the consumer the ability to view the footage?”

My team and the founders immediately countered my proposal with issues related to privacy. While I have (for an insanely long time) believed that privacy is a myth, I believe that in a post-COVID world, privacy will lose out to health.

Not only will consumers demand transparency into what goes into their food. They would also want to know more about the people preparing the food as well as the people involved in its delivery. The need for more information will clash with the worker’s demand for privacy. The privacy evangelists may stand on the streets with placards demanding protection; unfortunately, we live in such novel times that companies that wish to protect privacy may find themselves out of business.

It was not a surprise to me that I found a tweet about a Chinese delivery app that has installed body temperature monitors on their workers. They provide a live feed of the temperature on the consumer’s app. Some could say that this is an invasion of privacy.

In fact, how long would it be before the consumers demand similar monitors and information on the chefs, the helpers, and the waiters? In fact, why not the suppliers? The cleaners? Where does it stop?

The Chinese are not global role models for privacy protection; however, the pandemic is pitting the ideological notions of privacy against the real danger to health due to the way this virus spreads. Interestingly this debate isn’t confined to the US or China; it rages in South Korea, India, and several other countries.

Therefore, Casey Ross is correct in asking if this is a 9/11 moment for the health-over-privacy debate. We gave up privacy for security then, what stops us from making that trade-off now?

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