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Hackernoon logoHow The Coronavirus Outbreak Is Affecting Our Mobile Society by@apptica

How The Coronavirus Outbreak Is Affecting Our Mobile Society

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Mobile Market Analytics & Ad Intelligence Tool, mobile market insights provider

Credit: Shonagh Rae

Living In A Mobile Society Has Both Benefits & Consequences During A Pandemic

Living in an increasingly mobile society, as it has been called, has its benefits. Namely, news and information are wildly accessible, communication and staying connected (even over long distances) are easier than ever, and the โ€œapp economyโ€ that has cropped up around mobile devices and their use supports economic growth in surprising places.

And itโ€™s this combination of accessibility, connectivity, and economic opportunity that make living in a mobile society during the coronavirus outbreak so interesting. On one hand, it keeps us more informed, makes social distancing and working from home feasible, and is helping buoy businesses in the face of coronavirus-related upheaval.

On the other hand, weโ€™re suddenly faced with some serious questions about how to balance security and privacy against public safety. And the free-market of the app economy leaves a mobile society uniquely vulnerable to enterprising kinds of crime that exploit our insecurities in times of crisis.

Three different "Coronavirus trackers", mid-February

Mobile Apps Offer Opportunities To Understand, Stay Connected, & Cope With Pandemic Stress

The first โ€” and perhaps the most significant โ€” role of mobile devices during the coronavirus outbreak has been as a tool that helps people stay safe. As members of a mobile society, weโ€™ve been able to leverage mobile apps and access to our (significant) benefit.

For example, in early February (just as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning and people were beginning to wonder how bad it could be), mobile society members turned to a mobile app to better understand what pandemic-era life might look like. Specifically, Plague Inc. experienced a huge increase in the number of downloads of its mobile game, which people used to anticipate virus transmission.

Similarly, video chat apps have seen an unexpected boost in usage as people seek to stay connected from a distance. Plus, mental health and wellness app use has surged, parallelling increases in peopleโ€™s anxiety and stress due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Governments & Others Collect Mobile/App Data To Track Disease Exposure, Predict Impacts

Almost every member of our international mobile society has taken to their mobile device during the coronavirus outbreak. So it makes sense that, at the same time, governments, public health agencies, and even news reporters have found novel ways to use mobile data, mobile app data, and dedicated mobile apps to predict the progression and effects of the virus.

The first and most novel example of this was when Tinder users (in the U.S., especially) began paying for premium app access so they could connect and chat with people under quarantine in Wuhan. Shortly after, as the coronavirus outbreak spread outside of China, the South Korean government pioneered new ways to use mobile GPS data to locate people infected with the virus and trace their contacts (a practice thatโ€™s now becoming increasingly popular elsewhere).

In the U.K., a now-popular symptom-tracking mobile app is helping identify potential new coronavirus outbreak hotspots and informing resource allocation around the country. Meanwhile, Europe, the U.S., and other countries are exploring potential opportunities for using mobile apps for contact tracing.

At the same time, non-governmental agencies are using mobile app GPS and download data to predict the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on different parts of our mobile society. Google has published data showing which geographic areas are crushing โ€” and seemingly ignoring โ€” social distancing. Even before that, play stores and travel companies reported dramatic decreases in travel- and hotel-booking mobile app downloads and use, forecasting the economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

Unauthorized Coronavirus-Related Mobile Apps Take Advantage Of Peopleโ€™s Fears; Leave Mobile Society Vulnerable

Not long after the coronavirus outbreak spread internationally in mid-February, mobile app stores bloated with fake and malicious mobile apps claiming to track, test, or otherwise help users stay safe from the virus.

At best, these mobile apps provided unintentionally harmful (incorrect) information so they can panicked usersโ€™ downloads. At worst, they intentionally stole data or otherwise compromised the security of usersโ€™ devices. Some even functioned as ransomware, locking down usersโ€™ devices (depriving them of access to the benefits of being in mobile society during a crisis) and/or threatening to make their personal information public unless payments are made.

As the coronavirus outbreak has gotten worse, so has the situation with fake mobile apps. By mid-March, Apple placed stringent restrictions on coronavirus-related apps in its App Store. Google and Amazon weren't far behind in their decision to ban all unofficial coronavirus outbreak tracking and tracing apps.

Search results for "coronavirus" on Google Play, 4/6/2020

Mobile Advertisers & Some Companies Reap (Long-Term?) Rewards As Stay-At-Home Orders Drive People Onto Devices

Not all economic gain from the coronavirus outbreak has been either inorganic or unscrupulously-earned. As it turns out, some elements of the app economy are particularly well-suited for stability and even growth during an emergency.

For example, according to mobile analytics company Apptica, Entertainment and Social in-app ads have seen nearly 20% growth since January. Likewise, productivity, remote education, remote office, and other paid communication apps have seen a significant increase in popularity and paid use (which some firms expect will persist even after the coronavirus outbreak is under control). Trusted mobile app brands in the business, education, exercise, and food-delivery industries all have seen huge increases in direct-searches, downloads, and use.

Related to these and other changes, some industry experts are saying that the coronavirus outbreak is going to change our long-term consumption habits as a mobile society, making us even more mobile than weโ€™ve ever been.

We truly believe the key to success in the fast-changing mobile field is the firsthand information on the market. In a situation of instability, the one who managed to adapt wins the game.

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