That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
Now consider issues beyond specific user groups. The U.S. will almost certainly need to introduce a “track and trace” system, using information technology, preferably with privacy safeguards. One version of this idea uses geolocation methods, which tracks where people are in physical space and sends individuals a text message if they come into close contact with others diagnosed with Covid-19.
That technology requires participants to have a smartphone. The federal government probably will not mandate smartphone usage, which would both be politically unpopular and difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, businesses are likely to turn to such schemes to increase workplace safety. But again, exactly who already owns or afford a smartphone? Some of the jobs with the closest physical contact, such as service jobs, employ relatively low paid workers.
Companies may well decide to help workers buy smartphones, perhaps with government subsidies too. But that would then make having a smartphone a job requirement, including in the retail and public sectors.
This would create a new and in some ways more serious digital divide. Imagine you want to visit your local shopping mall. Its owners might require that you subscribe to one of the Covid-19 tracing apps. Or imagine not being able to get your license renewed without a smartphone certifying your health status.
All of a sudden the U.S. will have a new segregation — between those who have smartphones and those who don’t. If you’re on the wrong side of that divide, many places and services will be hard if not impossible to reach.
And to close:
It is plausible that the U.S. could end up with 10% or more of the population exiled from many key institutions of American life — simply because they lack the right kind of technology.
Don’t get me wrong; the digital divide deserves the additional attention soon to come its way. The trick will be ensuring that any proposed solutions don’t just trade one kind of divide for another.
I can’t even figure out how to work those parking spots that are “app only” for the parking meter. Pity me!