The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on Tech

The COVID-19 pandemic created major opportunities for innovation and ushered in new technology solutions, but even as the danger subsides, this tech may still serve a purpose.

Whether it be face mask detection, temperature checks, facial recognition or AI surveillance, technology crafted to combat COVID-19 is here to stay. This may present a number of benefits, but there are ethical issues that persist.

Throughout the pandemic, school districts sought ways to mitigate the risk of outbreaks and ensure students were complying with safety regulations. AI-empowered cameras, for example, were one of the first pieces of technology implemented, allowing schools to monitor which students weren’t wearing masks.

“I think it’s helpful for COVID-19 stuff, but it seems a little intrusive,” said Noa Young, a 16-year-old junior from Atlanta’s Fulton County school district. “I think it’s strange that we were not aware of that.”

Although students knew cameras were monitoring them, they weren’t informed about the extent of the surveillance. The cameras have the ability to scan for body temperature and can also determine if a student is wearing their mask correctly.

In addition to monitoring for compliance, these cameras have the ability to assist with contact tracing. They can scan students’ faces and determine who they’ve been in contact with, enabling schools to retrace the steps of someone who contracts COVID-19. This is just one example of pandemic tech’s continued development, but as adoption and use spreads to other sectors and it’s used for other purposes, security and privacy concerns begin to pile up.

Courtenay Brown, 31, works in an Amazon warehouse and explained the scrutiny she is under throughout her workdays. Amazon uses similar AI surveillance to keep tabs on worker productivity, notifying management if someone deviates from their assigned task for too long. Many believe this level of surveillance creates an inhumane work environment.

“They basically can see everything you do, and it’s all to their benefit,” Brown said. “They don’t value you as a human being. It’s demeaning.”

The implementation of this technology is one of the factors pushing Amazon workers to take a stand through unionization efforts.

“There’s no way we’re going to stop or let this bring us down,” said Derrick Palmer, co-founder of the Amazon Labor Union. “It’s going to do the complete opposite. We’re going to go 10 times harder.”

Another byproduct of the pandemic was the shift to remote work in organizations across the country and in every industry. This shift created the need for remote access to an organization’s tools, information, data and assets, which didn’t come without inherent security risks—especially since such access often needed to happen literally overnight.

One way companies adjusted was through adoption of identity and access management (IAM) solutions. IAM can be used to identify, record and grant access in the cloud, an integral part of secure functionality in hybrid or remote workplace.

“In the game of cybercrime cat and mouse, one could argue there is no such thing as being over-resourced. A major breach can bring down a company,” said World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck.

Although IAM proved to be a workable solution to the challenge of remote access management, cybersecurity threats are ever-changing and now cyberattackers have shifted focus—they may be attacking IAM solutions.

“Sophisticated threat actors are actively targeting identity and access management infrastructure, and credential misuse is now a primary attack vector,” Gartner described in its Top Security and Risk Management Trends 2022 report.

To keep data safe, companies will have to be ready for an even wider range of cyberattacks, including threats to IAM.

These are just two examples of technological breakthroughs that were originally seen as innovative solutions but which have evolved to have their own set of problems.

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