Enabling User-centered Privacy Controls for Mobile Applications: COVID-19 Perspective

Tanusree Sharma, Hunter A. Dyer, Masooda Bashir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mobile apps have transformed many aspects of clinical practice and are becoming a commonplace in healthcare settings. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity for such apps to play an important role in reducing the spread of the virus. Several types of COVID-19 apps have enabled healthcare professionals and governments to communicate with the public regarding the pandemic spread, coronavirus awareness, and self-quarantine measures. While these apps provide immense benefits for the containment of the spread, privacy and security of these digital tracing apps are at the center of public debate. To address this gap, we conducted an online survey of a midwestern region in the United State to assess people's attitudes toward such apps and to examine their privacy and security concerns and preferences. Survey results from 1,550 participants indicate that privacy/security protections and trust play a vital role in people's adoption of such apps. Furthermore, results reflect users' preferences wanting to have control over their personal information and transparency on how their data is handled. In addition, personal data protection priorities selected by the participants were surprising and yet revealing of the disconnect between technologists and users. In this article, we present our detailed survey results as well as design guidelines for app developers to develop innovative human-centered technologies that are not only functional but also respectful of social norms and protections of civil liberties. Our study examines users' preferences for COVID-19 apps and integrates important factors of trust, willingness, and preferences in the context of app development. Through our research findings, we suggest mechanisms for designing inclusive apps' privacy and security measures that can be put into practice for healthcare-related apps, so that timely adoption is made possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalACM Transactions on Internet Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Mobile apps
  • human-centered
  • privacy 8 security
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications


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