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“We must consider health data as a common good”

Grandstand. The state plans to launch an app, Stop Covid, to stem the spread of the pandemic. Its principle is the use of personal data, in this case geolocation and disease data (virus infection) and aims to prevent individuals who have been in contact with people carrying the virus.

However, the best placed, today, to exploit this data are the Gafam, because they already have health data and functionalities to stem the pandemic (geolocation, social relation, interindividual communication). It would be the quickest immediate strategy. But this state application questions, in our view, the nature of public goods, their governance by states and their delay in exploiting data in order to serve the common interest.

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For decades, the notion of public good has been associated with that developed by economists. It refers to the fact that a public good can only be produced by the market because of its non-rivalry properties (several consumers can consume and use this information without deteriorating the consumption of others) and non-exclusion. This has two major consequences, which make citizens more or less powerless.

The notion of public good has lost its meaning

The first concerns the privatization of health data by the Gafam. In other words, Gafam and their applications exploit this data by making it exclusive. To a large extent, they are already collected by applications on smartphones. These data are disclosed with the consent of all individuals, with the motivation to improve their own health.

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The data collected can be particularly rich and sensitive: it ranges from weight to heart rate (for example, an algorithm is capable of detecting cardiac anomalies in a finer way than a cardiologist would do), via geolocation. Their exploitation mainly aims to buy applications or to be paid with advertising.

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The second concerns the nationalization of personal health data. The difficult equation for the state is to create a public health good by exploiting personal data. This difficulty also faces a paradox: individuals prefer to disclose personal information to Gafam rather than to the State, in particular on facial recognition (participation in FaceApp or FaceID for example).

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