COVID-19 App Store and Data Flow Ecologies
ESRC COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant

The App Studies Initiative has received a grant for a short-term research project about apps as a key part of the response to COVID-19 around the world. We look forward to continuing our collaborations in this context.

Project description

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. Initial research and critical assessments of COVID-19 apps, however, have raised a number of important concerns from issues around privacy and security to the adoption rates required for their effectiveness. This project, accordingly, contributes to emerging public and policy debates through digital methods research of COVID-19 apps and their governance through app stores, along with 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. Drawing from an interdisciplinary set of ‘multi-situated’ app methods, therefore, we aim to investigate COVID-19 apps as media ecological artefacts. In doing so, we explore the capacities of apps by cycling them through different socio-technical settings to address specific questions developed in dialogue with recent work on the platform economy, software infrastructure and data critique.

Some facets of the project include: mapping algorithmic and curatorial ordering practices in app stores, tracing data flows by capturing network connections, decompiling apps to identify third-parties, and performing data-centric walkthroughs to consider the mediation of information disclosure and consent. By combining these methods, the project aims to provide an assessment of the governance risks and ethical challenges posed to the public by COVID-19 apps.

Investigators are:

  • Dr. Michael Dieter (Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick)
  • Dr. Anne Helmond (Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
  • Dr. Nathaniel Tkacz (Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick)
  • Dr. Esther Weltevrede (Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Contributing researchers are:

  • Fernando van der Vlist (University of Siegen, Germany)
  • Jason Chao (University of Siegen, Germany)

The project is funded by an ESRC COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant and partnered with the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Read more: https://esrc.ukri.org/news-events-and-publications/news/news-items/new-covid-19-research/.

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