The World Health Organisation (WHO) has partnered with Viber to release its second Covid-19 chatbot. This adds to the list of solutions which will change the relationship of the public sector with big tech.

The latest Viber chatbot from the WHO followed its earlier rollout on WhatsApp. Together the messaging services have become two of the most important sources of public information on Covid-19.
Another partnership outside of the information space that has been driven by the pandemic is Amazon’s move into medical device delivery with the Seattle Coronavirus Awareness Network (SCAN).

Google, meanwhile, has been contributing to public health efforts with its Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports. These are not affiliated with any specific organization, but utilize Google’s data hoard pro bono.

Big tech will become indispensable to public sector containment efforts

Big tech-powered solutions like these are becoming indispensable. This at a time when the tech companies have been scrambling to redeem their public image.The confluence of Covid-19 with big data worries, impending AI revolution and mounting pressure from privacy and antitrust regulators make this a pivotal moment for tech companies to regain faith.
However, if the tech giants’ public sector involvement continues beyond the pandemic, there will be greater dependence on their services and an intensification of their monopolies.

The messaging apps could quickly build a monopoly on the public information market
Covid-19 has made a growing niche out of the public information market; that is, the amplification of official information in exchange for the audience it brings.
Chatbots offer a unique solution to the challenge of amplifying public information from official sources over the din of misinformation, fielding direct questions with tailored responses.

The natural language algorithms which power these interactions are crucially different to the now notorious algorithms of targeted news feeds, generating specific and selectable insights as opposed to echo chambers.
The public information market has previously been highly fragmented and unprofitable, consisting entirely of TV, radio and news outlets. Covid-19 could change that, creating a handful of maximum-coverage channels.

Lack of interoperability between messaging apps left WhatsApp and Viber as practically indispensable – in their respective markets. They now stand to become the most widely-informative.

Amazon is demonstrating tech giant power in the public sector beyond public information

Amazon’s recent activities are perhaps the best example of forming close and profitable relationships with the public sector. This follows a previous minor foray into public information.

Having already partnered with the UK’s NHS to provide medical information through its Alexa device, Amazon is expected to deliver testing kits for the health service, as Verdict has reported.

The company already delivers kits locally in partnership with SCAN. Amazon is widely thought to be accelerating its preparations for an entry into global private healthcare.
The list of technological solutions to challenges posed by the current pandemic is growing daily. Outsourcing them to a few of the most powerful tech companies will have a lasting impact.

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