MacArthur Foundation awards $1.6 million for equitable COVID-19 tech

MacArthur Foundation awards $1.6 million for equitable COVID-19 tech

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced grants totaling $1.6 million in support of efforts to ensure technological responses to COVID-19 advance equity and protect civil rights and liberties. 

According to the foundation, containing the pandemic will require mass testing and contact tracing, but many of those technologies rely on mobile phones and location data. Given existing health inequities in the United States as well as concerns about individual privacy protections, it is critical to devise a contact tracing system that is both trusted and transparent. 

The five recipients include the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU of Illinois, which was awarded a two-year, $300,000 grant in support of efforts to ensure that technology and data used to respond to the pandemic in Illinois is deployed in a way that advances equity and protects civil rights and civil liberties; the Crossroads Fund, which will receive $300,000 over two years to establish a network of technologists and community organizers in Chicago that works to ensure community perspectives are included in decisions about how contact tracing technology is used and deployed; the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was awarded $250,000 over eighteen months to help public and private decision makers develop policies and practices around the use of digital tools and data that incorporate equity, inclusion, and replicability; the Social Science Research Council in Brooklyn, New York, which was awarded $500,000 to examine how mass testing and contact tracing can be implemented to advance equity in health outcomes and protect individual rights and liberties; and the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which was awarded $250,000 to track contact tracing app laws around the world, conduct forensic analysis of contact tracing apps, and evaluate related apps from countries with poor human rights records.

"This crisis has laid bare inequities across our society [along] the lines of race, ethnicity, income, wealth, status, and power," said MacArthur Foundation president John Palfrey. "Before we use digital contact tracing, we must weigh the costs. It is insufficient for that response to rely solely on apps; we must keep one eye on the inequities of the past and another eye on the privacy conundrums that lay ahead."

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"Ensuring COVID-19 tech responses advance equity, protect civil rights and liberties." John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation press release 07/30/2020.