Framing ethical issues associated with the UK COVID-19 contact tracing app: exceptionalising and narrowing the public ethics debate

Ethics and Information Technology 24 (1):1-16 (2022)
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Abstract

This paper explores ethical debates associated with the UK COVID-19 contact tracing app that occurred in the public news media and broader public policy, and in doing so, takes ethics debate as an object for sociological study. The research question was: how did UK national newspaper news articles and grey literature frame the ethical issues about the app, and how did stakeholders associated with the development and/or governance of the app reflect on this? We examined the predominance of different ethical issues in news articles and grey literature, and triangulated this using stakeholder interview data. Findings illustrate how news articles exceptionalised ethical debate around the app compared to the way they portrayed ethical issues relating to ‘manual’ contact tracing. They also narrowed the debate around specific privacy concerns. This was reflected in the grey literature, and interviewees perceived this to have emerged from a ‘privacy lobby’. We discuss the findings, and argue that this limited public ethics narrative masked broader ethical issues.

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