Survey: 51% has no objection to a corona-app, under strict conditions


The current lockdown measures demand a lot of us. Policy makers are currently looking into exit strategies to restart our normal life. One of these strategies involves tracking citizens via mobile phones through apps that collect sensitive and personal data. Nobody is sure yet what data should be processed and to what extent. Meanwhile, other countries have launched dedicated apps. In some cases installing them is a condition for citizens to be able to go outside. How far will we go? How much of our personal data are we willing to share in order to reduce lockdown measures?


The Knowledge Centre Data & Society has conducted a 'blitz' survey about this topic from Monday April 6th at noon until Tuesday April 7th at noon. 1708 subjects filled in the survey, which was promoted via our own social media channels, website and via the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. The data was processed by KCDS partners imec-MICT-UGent and imec-SMIT-VUB.

The respondents were presented with three scenario's in which they could indicate what information they would want to share, with whom and with what goal. The first scenario covered a smartphone app that would indicate a risk-level based on the individual location data (GSM & GPS) and the physical proximity to others (Bluetooth). The second scenario looked at the possible triage of patients in hospitals based on a survey-assessment. The third scenario looked at how technology (e.g. smart camera's and social media) could be used to check if people followed the guidelines concerning the coronavirus.

Below are the first and most essential results of the survey. Further analysis will follow at a later stage.

  • 39% of the respondents does not want to install an app. 10% is undecisive and 51% would install it. Of this last group, 88% is (very) worried about the coronacrisis.
  • The numbers differ according to the goal of the app. The bigger the influence on the individual lives, the more resistance is registered. 54% of the respondents does not want to use an app to regulate access to public places (e.g. public transport or supermarkets). Less drastic purposes encounter less resistance: 26% turn down an app that suggest 14-days of quarantaine, and only 19% would refuse using the app to make predictions about the spread of the virus based on their personal data.
  • Citizens are willing to share more personal data due to this health crisis. However, if they are asked to consider their willingness to share the same data after the crisis, this decreases significantly.
    • 51% of respondents doesn't mind sharing their GPS location during the crisis, but this number drops to 34% after the crisis.
    • 28% does not want to share any cell-phone or GPS data during the crisis, this number increases to 34% afterwards.
    • 1 in 4 respondents is less willing to share cell-phone, GPS and Bluetooth data after the crisis. This number should be considered as quite high, as it should be added to the number of people who already were denying to share this data.
    • Respondents are least reluctant to share their less exact cell phone location via telcos. Sharing GPS data is met with much more resistance.
  • Respondents are less inclined to share their data with the government than with hospitals. 50% trusts the government with their data and for hospitals this number increases to 63%.
  • Respondents are very worried about what will happen with the data they shared áfter the crisis. 78% believes that the data they would share during the crisis would be used by other organisations or companies, for whom they were not intended. 63% also fears that allowing these applications now, could potentially have unwanted consequences leading to the development of apps that otherwise wouldn't be created.
  • We compared the acceptance rate of using an application to fight corona with the other corona-related measures. While only 7% of the respondents thought social distancing was unacceptable, and only 16% thought this of non-essential commuting. 39% found the use of apps against corona intolerable. 42% didn't accept technology to be used to check if people followed the government issued guidelines.
“The current attitude towards the sharing of personal data has an expiration date.”
Marijn Martens
Researcher imec-MICT-UGent

Marijn Martens (imec-MICT-UGent):

  • Although the use of an app is not necessarily perceived as negative, it is clear that location data, and more specifically, the precise GPS data, is sensitive. Less accurate location data, such as the cell phone signal, are perceived as more tolerable. For the creators of an app it will be crucial to specify what type of location data will be collected.
  • The current attitude towards the sharing of personal data has an expiration date. Respondents might be inclined to share their data during the crisis, but this will not necessarily be the case afterwards. 25% of respondents indicates that they will be more critical to share their data once the crisis is over. Developers should clearly indicate if there are any long-term data collection purposes that outlast the corona crisis.
  • It is crucial to motivate why certain data is being collected. If the purpose is unclear, respondents indicate that they do not want to share their data.
  • The corona crisis is not a wild card. Certain potential features that could have a major influence on people's lives, such as denying access to certain locations, are still not acceptable.
  • Respondents remain concerned about sharing their personal data. The fear that sensitive data might be abused at a later stage is prominent. A large group of respondents does not believe that the government can give sufficient guarantees on this matter. Therefore, the establishment of -well deserved- trust will be crucial upon developing any app
“Privacy is not death yet: our respondents weigh their options and will only allow what is strictly necessary.”
Rob Heyman
Coördinator Knowledge Centre Data & Society

Rob Heyman (imec-SMIT-VUB):

  • Privacy is not death yet: our respondents weigh their options and will only allow what is strictly necessary.
  • Our respondents are aware and worried that their data could be (ab)used in the future. There is a significant fear of 'function creep'. So there is a clear need for rules to limit the use of data in time and space.
  • The biggest challenge will be to create proper rules of engagement: this will help to identify and stop abuse immediately. An app that offers a personal risk assessment, for example, should not be used to deny anyone access to a supermarket.


  • For further questions related to this survey, contact Marijn Martens, researchers Knowledge Centre Data & Society, imec-MICT-UGent, PhD Fellow (FWO).
  • For questions about the context of this survey within the (future) activities of the Knowledge Centre Data & Society, contact Rob Heyman, coordinator Knowledge Centre Data & Society, imec-SMIT VUB.


This survey was distributed via Het Nieuwsblad. In total, 1708 respondents finished the survey. The data was weighed in terms of gender and age of the respondents to mimic the distribution in Flanders. Analysing the socio-demographic information of the respondents, we noticed that we did not sufficiently reach older, low-educated women to consider this survey as representative for Flanders.