Two core reasons tech in Asia is more resilient to the pandemic

As much of the world settles down into lockdown, life is quickly going online. In the following weeks, we will be looking at how technology is helping societies in Asia weather the storm. This week, we begin with a couple of overarching themes.

Big data

COVID-19 contact tracing systems in Asia have big data to thank for their success. Carolyn Bigg, a partner at the law firm DLA Piper in Hong Kong, in a recent interview pointed out that countries such as China and Singapore are big data and analytics leaders and have effectively used their experience in dealing with COVID-19. Bigg believes their efforts in fighting COVID-19 will lead to greater awareness of how big data can be used.

Mobile applications

Multi-purpose, high-penetration apps such as WeChat and Alipay have also been vital in managing life under lockdown in China. Mini-apps within these apps can be automatically added to user’s phones, which has allowed for quick distribution of health-related mini-apps. The apps, with their mobile payment functions, also act as gateways to a wide range of online services, some of which we will touch upon next week.

Home screen of super app Alipay

European equivalents?

Resilience will have to be built differently in Europe. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires consent for data use; therefore, mass tracking of people’s movements violates this. Instead, European governments have so far had to make use of data from mobile network operators. This method does not reveal personal details but allows governments to carry out macro-level analyses. In Belgium, for example, authorities have used this method to look at the percentage of people in a given ZIP code that stray out of a one-kilometre radius of their home. Findings can help judge the effectiveness of lockdown rules. 

As for apps, although many Europeans use the likes of Google, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, governments on the continent have a cold relationship with the giants. Nevertheless, we have seen some cooperation already, for example, in helping spread public health information in the UK. In the following weeks and months, we can expect new partnerships forged between the two.

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