Paige Kleidermacher & Lily Li
Numbers are vital to understanding the pandemic. Case numbers, hospitalization rates, and contact tracing app download rates all provide irreplaceable information that guides our responses during these challenging times.
While data analysis offers integral information and trends that help governmental and medical professionals understand the pandemic, this data lacks voice. It fails to fully display people’s personal experiences and stories that have defined the pandemic. For example, hospitalization rates reveal the severity of the virus overall on a population. But these numbers cannot allow us to conceptualize how hospitalizations affect the individual experiences of a unique populace.
The Bass Connections International Sub Team is dedicated to providing voices to these numbers. Our narrative project is designed to account for the lived experiences of college students during the pandemic. With personal interviews, we develop the stories of individuals across the world living in vastly different situations.
Through these interactions, we can glimpse the diverse lived experiences during the pandemic and first-hand insight into issues we care about. How do everyday people view their privacy during the pandemic?
We hope our narrative project helps to provide faces to data to better appreciate the experiences of college students living in circumstances much different from our own.
One of our first interviewees, Monica Song, is an international student at McGill University in Canada. Originally from Beijing, China, she travelled back to China in May 2020 due to the increased risk of staying abroad as the pandemic surged. Lily Li, a member of the International Sub Team, interviewed Monica based on their shared experience of China’s contact tracing system.
When being asked about her attitude on China’s centralized COVID data collection process, Monica emphasized the “sense of safety” that extensive contact tracing brings to her rather than the “sense of insecurity” about privacy breaches: “On one hand, I mean, yeah, of course, it’s kind of scary [to know] that people will know where I’ve been. But on the other hand, that gives me a sense of safety. If I know I’ve been to this mall on Saturday, and someone has been tested positive in the same mall, I want to be notified immediately, and I’ll go and get my test to make sure that I’m okay and the people who have been in close contact are also okay. So in that way is a sense of safety instead of insecurity.”
(Background: By the time we had the conversation, China had kept a record of 0 new cases for at least a week. Therefore, the emergence of even one positive case could elicit panic around the proximate community. In the interview, we also talked about a case where an entire shopping mall went into lockdown because one positive case was detected. Everyone was required to stay in the mall before they were tested negative by medical workers.)
Monica gave her reason toward the end of the interview, where she shared her view on the idea of “privacy” in the age of COVID and big data: “I think all the information about me, you know, it’s already up somewhere on the internet, maybe I’m aware of it, maybe I’m not.” She believes that the internet is the key to this problem and COVID acts like a magnifying glass that exposed certain neglected aspects of the internet’s privacy issues: “people can have like, so many things, like so much information about you just through the internet.”
Each individual’s unique perspective is a reflection of their experience, value, and culture. It is interesting to think about how COVID reshapes the discourse on data privacy by giving rise to a contact tracing privacy paradox. Our team will be collecting more narratives from individuals with international experiences — stay tuned for future interviews!