Category: Culture

Data in the spotlight – contact tracing

The wake of covid, demand for data has combined with a democratisation of data; the general public are talking about R values and voraciously consuming graphs and figures. One of the hottest topics right now is the debate around the use and effectiveness of digital contact tracing apps. Data ethics and privacy are key issues when evaluating the pros and cons of a centralised approach versus a decentralised approach. The centralised approach creates a repository of contacts whereas in the decentralised approach all the data is held on individual’s phones and potential contacts are notified on a push basis only. One of the major concerns with centralised apps is the risk of scope creep. Once there is a central repository, there is potential for the data to be used for other purposes, such as identifying and penalising individuals who have interacted with too many other people. However, a central repository could also be of use to epidemiologists studying the spread of the disease – a purpose many people might be keen to support. Existing data protection law obviously requires data subjects to be informed on how their data will be used so theoretically there is already legal provision to guard against the risks of scope creep, but a lot depends on the phrasing of privacy notices. There is also the question of data retention and the dismantling any central repository when the immediate need has passed (who decides when that is and on what basis?).

Digital contact tracing is really only a small part of the contact tracing solution; it is not really that useful on it’s own. As one commentator said on Singapore’s TraceTogether app: “you can’t big data your way out of a no data situation”. Even if half of the population download and use the app, the chances of picking up a “contact” are only 25% (ie. 50% squared), so the majority of contacts will not be detected. There is also a high potential for false positives, eg. a bus passing close to a block of flats might register contacts which have not actually happened. Most contract tracing will therefore still be largely manual, with an army of people (18k across the UK) working to create a repository of people and contacts. These will be fully identifiable and definitely centralised, but surprisingly this aspect does not seem to be getting the same level of scrutiny as the digital contact tracing apps.

The way in which digital contact tracing functionality is used to supplement manual contact tracing is therefore of key importance and there are a number of potential uses – eg. to help fill gaps in people memories or perhaps to help with prioritisation of testing (eg. if you are ill and have had contact with a covid-19 sufferer, you could potentially be prioritised over someone who has not had contact). These are details which are still emerging.

These questions of data quality, provenance, ethics and privacy are issues which data professionals need to consider on a regular basis. Rarely have they been so high on the public agenda. The current debate highlights the importance and value of giving proper consideration to these questions. Let’s make sure this focus is carried forward into other subject areas and industries as we move beyond COVID-19.

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How to work from home: 6 key tips

Before he was put in charge of all the words on this site, our incredibly handsome Editor was self-employed for almost a decade. He’s put together a handy list to help you to get to grips with working from home. Although he’s not entirely sure why he’s telling you that in the third person.

Stick to your morning routine

Seriously, get up at the same time you would if you had to travel to work. The thing is, you are going to want to keep hitting that snooze button until it’s 8.59 and while I won’t deny you an extra 10 minutes every now and then – you know what you’re like.

You’ll wake up, have a coffee, sit down with breakfast, stick on whatever it is your binge-watching these days and before you know it it’s 10.30 and you haven’t even checked your emails.

Dress for work – but don’t overdo it

Look, your brain is an idiot. It’s all, like “oh wow we’re at home let’s stay in our pyjamas and read lists on the internet” (thanks by the way), so you have to trick it. Leaving the house is no longer your trigger for ‘professional mode’, so make putting on a shirt your new work themed Bat-Signal.


Although, you know, you’re not at work are you? As long as you look boss on a video call, you’re good, and while those shorts are obviously incredible they signify something so much more beautiful. Not having to wear a belt.

Create a workspace

Your house is now both your office and the place where you cannonball episodes of Americas Next Top Model, it’s wise to separate those true, true necessities as much as you possibly can.

Don’t work in front of the telly. I’m lucky enough to have a little box room for an office, but if you don’t, create a little space in whichever part of the house you use least (although, not there, it smells in there – no offence).

Learn to focus

Like every other millennial you’ve met in the last five years, I’m about to recommend you take up mindfulness. Obviously, there are genuine benefits to your mental health and if you are someone prone to anxiety, stress or depression I’d suggest now might be a pretty good time to get into it.

But it has work benefits too, it helps you to train yourself to be present and to focus. Trust me, there’s going to be days where you ‘accidentally’ take a three-hour lunch because, oh my god how good is it to see Picard back, right? That’s human, but it’ll work out a lot better if, when you are in front of your laptop, you’re actually getting things done.

Manage your time effectively

Obviously right? You’re already really good at it, the office was distracting anyway. You’ve got lists and project management tools and everything. Thing is, and I’m sorry if I’m labouring this point, unlike at the office, your house is full of distractions that you actually enjoy.

You’ve got three cats, 200 books you’ve been meaning to get around to and you’re on the verge of a perfect season in Football manager. Too specific? Add in your own examples.  Set goals, have a reward system -heck – have a punishment system if that’s what you’re into. Whatever works for you, set it up and stick to it, otherwise those days are going to slip away.

Look after your physical health

Look, as much as this blog is a shameless attempt to show you multiple pictures of my legs, I’m also trying to be practical here. There is a base level of exercise you do when you have to actually go to work, that you won’t do at home.

Using myself as an example – I’ll do 10,000 steps by the time I get home if I go to work, working from home I’ll get there by some point next Saturday. Buy a yoga mat, get some dumbbells, download one of a billion free home fitness apps. I believe in you.

That should do it. Obviously there’s more I could say but I feel like I’ve lowered the tone of this website enough without giving you my perspective (and accompanying images) on good hygiene or comfort breaks. But for short, wash your hands.

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