Singaporean attitudes to personal COVID data differ to overseas counterparts

15 April 2020 4 min. read

A new Oliver Wyman survey on attitudes toward data privacy in the battle against coronavirus has shown Singapore to be an outlier in several respects, but not as might initially be expected.

One of the early beacons in the fight against the spread of coronavirus (although currently experiencing a resurgence), Singapore has emerged in a new Oliver Wyman survey as the most open among six countries to sharing personal coronavirus data with non-government or unofficial entities, such as an employer or school. The citizens of Singapore however were the least willing to share a positive test result with their doctors.

Looking to gain insights into attitudes toward personal data-sharing and privacy in a time of coronavirus, the global consulting firm quizzed around 3,600 people in six countries, further including the US, UK, Germany, Spain, and Australia, and found the responses in different countries to be roughly commensurate as to several key data privacy issues – bar for those in Singapore, with perhaps some unexpected results.

The fight against COVID-19 raises fundamental questions about personal data and privacy. What started off with traditional health information collection and tracing contacts of infected persons to mitigate the spread of the disease quickly evolved into digital location tracking in many countries,” opens the Oliver Wyman survey report, noting that individual data-sharing preferences are strikingly common across countries despite different approaches.

Willingness to share personal coronavirus status with different entities

On the surface though, Singaporeans appear less trusting of officialdom and more comfortable with wider public sharing. This is despite the city-state being one of the world’s foremost leaders in several areas of smart government, such as according to previous Oliver Wyman analysis the number one ranked country for the future of mobility and for artificial intelligence preparedness. Still, its citizens were the second least willing to share corona-data with public health officials.

While responses to this effect were relatively even across the surveyed nations – from 51 percent in Spain to 60 percent in Germany (and Singapore returning a 54 percent consent rate), the question of whether citizens would be willing to have their doctor notified in the event of a positive COVID-19 test threw up some surprising results – even with the varying nature and stage of the coronavirus outbreak in each jurisdiction taken into account.

For the residents of Singapore, just 66 percent would approve of sharing their data with their doctor. This rate was 90 percent in Germany, with no other country beside Singapore returning results under 80 percent. Meanwhile, 55 percent of Singaporeans surveyed expressed willingness for their employer of school to be informed, the only country to return a majority. Spain was the next closest at 41 percent, while the figure in the UK was only 28 percent.

Singapore was also in the middle bracket for such information to be provided to federal government officials, at a rate of 28 percent compared to 39 percent in Australia and 22 percent in Spain. On the flip-side, however, Singaporeans were by far the most comfortable in their health status being shared to public apps with anonymised data, and right up the top alongside Spain in terms of public apps which also share the names of people infected.

Types of personal data people are willing to share to contain the spread of coronavirus

In respect to the former, 41 percent of local residents would consent to the anonymised platform, compared to just 19 percent in Germany and a fraction higher in the US and UK. Spain here was the closest to Singapore, at a rate of 35 percent. When it comes to including the names and locations of those infected, Singapore registered a consent rate of 16 percent, behind only Spain at 17 percent as the only two nations surveyed to score above 10 percent.

Half of Singaporeans would also be comfortable sharing location data from mobile telephones as part of an effort to trace potential contact with infected persons, with other surveyed countries beside Spain returning much lower consent rates. As noted by Oliver Wyman, China and South Korea, which both managed to sharply reduce the rates of community infection following their respective outbreaks, have used such mobile location tracking in their containment efforts.

“Most people support sharing personal health data if it’s aimed at protecting their health and that of the wider public,” concludes the Oliver Wyman survey-report. “They are much less interested in doing so to obtain cheaper or more convenient health care, or other goods and services. They also are less willing to share non-health information, such as mobile phone location or financial transaction data, even if it’s used to track potential contact with infected persons.