Contact tracing: why some people are giving false contact details to bars and restaurantsDr Donia Waseem, University of Bradford and Dr Joseph Chen, Macquarie University
For restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, pubs and nightclubs, the pandemic has hit hard. For many of these businesses, reopening again after the initial stages of lockdown has come with its own challenges. Not least has been that governments in many countries have instructed bars, cafes and restaurants to record people’s contact details in case they need to assist with test-and-trace efforts.
Contact tracing will allow governments to track outbreaks and the spread of the virus if needed. But not everyone is pleased about the prospect of revealing their personal information to strangers.
There have been reports that some restaurant staff have harassed female customers after getting their information from contact tracing. A number of restaurant goers have complained that their contact details can be seen by other customers. There have also been cases of people receiving scam track-and-trace text messages – all of which makes it unsurprising that some people are giving out false contact details.
Part of the problem is that highly publicised privacy violations – such as the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal – have severely damaged public trust. Many people believe that using people’s personal information without their permission is a widespread problem across many industries. In the US, for example, more than half of people surveyed didn’t think they could avoid their personal information being collected in their daily life.
While many bars, pubs and restaurants didn’t have to worry too much about data scandals before, reports of staff using people’s personal details to try and hook up with customers is potentially highly damaging – not just for those businesses, but for the whole hospitality sector.
Trust is obviously a big part of the problem here. For contact tracing to work effectively – for what might be many years to come – customers need to trust that establishments will look after their data correctly.
Research shows there are two basic types of trust: cognitive trust and affective trust. Cognitive trust is based on the confidence you feel in another person’s accomplishments, skills and reliability. This type of trust is said to be from the head or based more on reasoning and knowledge.
Affective trust, on the other hand, arises from feelings of emotional closeness, empathy or friendship. This type of trust is said to come from the heart – or have a more emotional link.
Listen to your brain
With this in mind, our latest research project looks at whether cognitive or affective trust is more effective in terms of gaining consent for contact tracing.
Our preliminary findings reveal that cognitive trust is the key to gaining people’s trust and getting them to recognise the value of contact tracing. So if places have transparent policies around how their data will be used, professional data-collection procedures, and clear communication then customers are more willing to share information.
Our findings also indicate that many customers are initially reluctant to share their personal information. And if they are pressured to provide information, then they are more likely to give fake information. So our next research project will look more deeply into some of the reasons why customers are doing this.
Understandably, many people are worried about a second wave of the virus and another lockdown. This would mean rising unemployment, loss of income and disruption at an already difficult time. This is why it’s so important we get contact tracing right – and that people feel comfortable, and safe, sharing their personal information.