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Iain McCallum, mobile industry veteran and MEF Advisor discusses the Covid-19 pandemic with Julian Ranger, Founder and Executive Chairman of digital identity specialists and explores how mobile technology can play a role in mitigating the impact of the crisis.

Towards the end of April 2020, I was joined by Julian Ranger of to talk about our industry’s response to the gathering COVID-19 crisis and how the technology developed by MEF Members globally might help in finding ways to lessen the terrible human and economic impact of the pandemic.

Julian started by noting the rapid adoption of existing technologies, particularly multi-person, multi-site interactive video conferencing, technologies that have been with us for a while but had limited penetration due, in part, to people’s historical preference to meet in person wherever possible. Well, that was then and this most certainly now…

As an occasional user of video conferencing over the past eighteen months I have got used to preparing for online meetings and the attendant etiquette and organisation required to make them as comfortable and natural for everyone involved but for many the forced adoption to meeting people online was a steep learning curve and for some not without its problems – Zoom-Bombers anyone?

One technology I have found particularly useful since the onset of lock-down is a noise-cancellation software plug-in which not only reduces – or virtually eliminates in most sessions is the feedback I’ve had – background noise like traffic, air cooler, police sirens and overly-adventurous children, (I have to keep my windows open in hot weather!), for people unfortunate to have to listen to me droning on but, also cuts out extraneous and unwanted noise for me when others are speaking as well!

This might seem a small thing, but for me it has really made the audio part of video calls much more agreeable and, hopefully, for my online guests also.

Julian also pointed out that his children are adapting well to online learning, be it at school or university, although those schools and universities are no doubt undergoing rapid and fearsome change at the very core of how they will operate in future and will need the technology to be safe, efficient and ubiquitous.

Another significant development in many countries around the world – some 28 at the time of this recording – is the official national adoption of track & trace apps to try and identify infection hotspots and help citizens and governments manage the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic.

Julian talks about some of the difficulties in the implementation of these apps, particularly how they affect the historical personal data exchange that has been thrown in to focus by the emergency and whether or not these questions – which are not new to the Digital Industry but now have real personal consequences for Citizens – but also how track & trace is only a small part of the transformation required to effectively battle the pandemic but also accelerate the adoption of safe and secure methods for Citizen’s to exchange data with the government and other agencies, particularly where the concept of patient-centricity allows the Citizen to become much more involved in their medical care as they are the only ones who can access all of their medical records and store them in the one place.

The jury is still out in the UK on whether concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic will outweigh the very real concerns about the ability of the government to keep their personal data safe and secure.

In terms of other data that can be shared with governments or other third parties to help optimise life under the pandemic, Julian used the example of Australian supermarket chains going to their government and saying that, as we’ve all seen here in the UK and lots of other countries around the world, as their grocery delivery booking systems work on a first-come, first-served basis would the government like the supermarkets to prioritise those deemed to be in greater need, either through medial conditions or some other criteria to be determined to which the Australian government naturally said ‘Yes! Absolutely!’ but their initial enthusiasm soon foundered upon the thorny question of personal data – in particular;

  1. How does the government identify someone deemed to be ‘in need’?
  2. How can they verify that that Citizen’s medical condition satisfies the qualifying criteria?
  3. How and in what form do they share that data with the supermarkets without breaching privacy regulations?

Julian then went on to describe the ‘lightbulb moment’ when the government were made aware of the technology model championed by MyData where the Citizen both holds and controls their medical and other personal data and can easily and conveniently share it with third-parties and where, in this example, the sharing of such data would have allowed the Australian government in concert with the supermarkets to identify and verify citizens who needed priority for grocery deliveries – and all in less than a week!

However, the technology on its own – as we are starting to see with public resistance to the track and trace app in the UK – is not enough.

The psychology around such technology that much of the public – perhaps not surprisingly given the huge increase in large corporate data breaches in recent times…Hi, Easyjet! – still struggles with means that the jury is still out in the UK on whether their concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic will outweigh their very real concerns about the ability of the government to keep their personal data safe and secure.

This problem goes to the very heart of what many in the industry have believed for a long time now, namely that the only model which will in any way satisfy a sceptical and risk-averse Citizenry is to place the ownership and administration of both digital identity and its attendant attributes and other personal data squarely in the hands of the Citizen.

If nothing else, the COVID-19 emergency has focused the minds of industry on delivering finally the great innovations that we know can empower our Citizens and the Digital Economy on which so many of those self-same Citizens depend for their livelihoods and do so in a way that is simple-to-use and as safe and secure for all parties as we can make it.

Simple, huh? Not without significant change in regulation it’s not.

MEF and other industry associations must lobby governments hard on these questions and propose solutions, we at MEF shall be reaching out to other organisations and individuals in the coming days to try and make this happen.
Julian and I – and any other interested parties, please get in touch if you are interested – will be speaking again on this very subject again soon.

Iain is a MEF Advisor and has, since 2012, worked extensively with mobile network operators across Europe and the Russian Federation to drive adoption and uptake of the GSMA’s Mobile Connect identity, RCS and Smart Cities initiatives. Prior to this, he ran third-party Messaging at Telefonica O2 UK from 2002 until 2010, working with Aggregators and Brands (Lloyds, ITV, C4, et al), driving the uptake of premium and bulk services and managing the issues of self regulation (PayForIT, a UK joint-MNO initiative), and subscriber protection.

If you are interested in finding out more about The PD&I Working Group contact Iain.

Iain McCallum

MEF Advisor