COVID-19 App Store and Data Flow Ecologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Centre for Interdisc. Methodologies


Mobile phone applications (apps) have emerged as a key part of the response to COVID-19 around the world and are a feature of UK government plans to manage the 'phase two' transition out of lockdown. While raising concerns from privacy and security to the adoption rates required for their effectiveness, initial research on COVID-19 apps has either remained abstract, been conducted in an ad hoc manner or has targeted individual apps.

This project will make a significant contribution to public and policy debates through digital methods research that will deliver a systematic empirical analysis of: 1) emerging ecologies of COVID-19 apps and their governance through app stores, and; 2) the data flows of prevalent apps within this domain.

Our approach is unique by moving beyond an analysis of single apps to look at multiple apps and their inter-relationships. Critical data studies have demonstrated that a focus on relations between apps and data infrastructures is vital since no apps operate in isolation.

In the first part of the project, the analysis of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store will provide an overview of COVID-19 apps in general. App store governance will be addressed through the investigation of algorithmic and curatorial ordering practices.

In the second part, data flows will be mapped by: capturing the network connections selected significant apps establish with administrative databases and platform APIs; decompiling apps to identify third-parties; and data-focused walkthroughs of app interfaces.

Through these combined methods, the project will provide an assessment of the governance risks and challenges posed to the public by COVID-19 apps.


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