Horizons Newsletter – week 50 // 2020
Horizons is a bi-monthly Dasym Research initiative to show you how the Dasym themes have been in the news. We publish the Horizons on our website and as an email newsletter. If you wish to receive the email, please contact Investor Relations.
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From tracing to travel apps
In the battle against COVID-19, countries have turned to apps, QR codes and other digital solutions to trace citizens and identify infected persons. While technology has not delivered on its promise to curb the pandemic on the national level, internationally there is hope that it may prove its usefulness as an enabler of global travel. At the G20 summit in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a global mechanism that would use QR codes – probably modelled on the Chinese system – to open up international travel. While that proposal was met with some skepticism, several initiatives are already underway. The European member states, for instance, have built a gateway to enable the interoperability of COVID-19 tracing apps across Europe. The World Economic Forum together with the Commons Project – a non-profit public trust – and some of the world’s largest airlines and airports are already working on a trusted, globally interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status. Apps could thus re-emerge as tools to certify a person’s immunity through health declarations, vaccination certificates and other registrations.
The tracing privacy paradox
The pandemic is bringing the privacy debate to the fore. Countries that are famous for their tech-savvy approach in beating down the virus, such as South Korea and China, deploy methods that are frowned upon in the west. These Asian authorities are using mobile phone location data, security camera footage, facial recognition software, credit-card data and other “big data” sources to identify and control potentially infected persons. Their approach contrasts sharply with the decentralized opt-in contact-tracing platform that Apple and Google jointly created. They effectively set the standard that most tracing apps use nowadays, allowing each country to customize according to local (privacy) regulation and customs (within the boundaries of their system). Paradoxically, the emphasis on privacy and voluntary adoption makes these apps less useful in fighting the pandemic. Without location data, it is difficult to find potential infection locations and break infection chains. Moreover, while people might want to serve the common good by voluntary downloading an app, they also fear the consequences. Aside from privacy concerns, the personal ramifications can be profound, for instance when the app warns them to go into quarantine.
One stop for everything
Super-apps first emerged in China. Super-apps blend shopping, social media, mobility, travel and many other services in one app that acts as a single portal to a wide range of in-house and third-party services. Social media app WeChat, for instance, created a vibrant ecosystem that includes payment and e-commerce options to let users shop and pay through the app. Now, companies around the world are replicating the model. Asian ride-hailing platforms Grab (Singapore) and Gojek (Indonesia) have expanded into payments and banking. In Latin America, e-commerce giant MercadoLibre, on-demand delivery firm Rappi, and fintech company Nubank are rolling out new products on their platforms. Global companies such as Uber, Amazon, Google Facebook, or Apple also have the potential to become super-apps, as is illustrated by the redesigned Google Pay app, which could evolve into a mega-marketplace. With consumers increasingly transacting on mobile devices, the super-app model seems to be the natural progression in digitization, meeting most of consumers’ daily needs through one ecosystem. Still, anti-trust and privacy regulation is likely to limit the super-app model in most developed markets.