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Essentially Unprotected: Health Data and Surveillance of Essential Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

February 22, 2023

In March 2020, local governments across the United States began instituting stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of COVID-19. Key to these orders were exceptions for "essential workers," in a variety of industries who were expected to continue reporting in person. Rather than keep essential workers home, politicians and public health officials recommended, or mandated, a number of changes to their workplaces—social distancing and masking, but also temperature scans and contact tracing. While the exact mandates varied greatly from state to state, many of these interventions relied on the introduction of public health surveillance into the workplace. But it remained unclear just how invasive such surveillance would be, and how the health data collected from essential workers would be handled by employers.Our research shows that, with few exceptions, essential workplaces did not use the pandemic to justify new, invasive forms of surveillance. Data was collected, but most often in haphazard ways, and the results were often kept for the benefit of the employer, and rarely made available to workers. Many of the workers we spoke to didn't care where their data went. What they wanted was to know who specifically in their workplace has tested positive for COVID-19 in a timely manner so that they could decide how to protect themselves and people in their homes. Privacy protection laws permitted employers to collect COVID-19 infection data about employees but did not allow the details about who was infected to be shared with employees. Workers wanting access to private health information to protect themselves were often at odds with employers navigating a confusing legal landscape that requires medical information be held as confidential.

Teens, Social Media, and Privacy

May 21, 2013

Teens share a wide range of information about themselves on social media sites; indeed the sites themselves are designed to encourage the sharing of information and the expansion of networks. However, few teens embrace a fully public approach to social media. Instead, they take an array of steps to restrict and prune their profiles, and their patterns of reputation management on social media vary greatly according to their gender and network size.

Teens and Technology 2013

March 13, 2013

Smartphone adoption among American teens has increased substantially and mobile access to the internet is pervasive. One in four teens are "cell-mostly" internet users, who say they mostly go online using their phone and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.In overall internet use, youth ages 12-17 who are living in lower-income and lower-education households are still somewhat less likely to use the internet in any capacity -- mobile or wired. However, those who fall into lower socioeconomic groups are just as likely and in some cases more likely than those living in higher income and more highly educated households to use their cell phone as a primary point of access.

Teens, Smartphones & Texting

March 19, 2012

Presents survey findings about trends in the number of text messages sent per day, frequency of phone calls, smartphone ownership, and use of the Internet, other mobile devices, and social network sites by demographics, parental education, and income.

Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity 1996-2011

March 19, 2012

Analyzes characteristics of new business owners in 2011 and 1996-2011 trends in entrepreneurship by demographics, education, industry, state, and metro area. Finds entrepreneurial activity down from 2010 but at higher rates than before the recession.

The Tone of Life on Social Networking Sites

February 9, 2012

Presents survey findings about American adults' views of the social and emotional climate of social networking sites, including experiences of kind or unkind behavior, those that boosted or ended a friendship, and reactions to problems.

Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites

December 9, 2011

Analyzes survey findings about how teenagers navigate the world of "digital citizenship," including experiences of, reactions to, and sources of advice about online cruelty; privacy controls and practices; and levels of parental regulation.

The Digital Revolution and Higher Education

August 28, 2011

Presents survey findings about the views of college presidents and the public on the value of, prevalence of, and experience with online learning, as well as the role of the Internet and related technologies in education and prospects for future growth.

Cell Phones and American Adults

September 2, 2010

Presents survey results on adults' use of and attitudes toward cell phones and texting by gender, race/ethnicity, age, income, education, and family structure. Analyzes communication patterns, including purpose and frequency, compared with those of teens.

Teens and Mobile Phones

April 20, 2010

Presents survey findings on trends in teenagers' use of and attitudes toward cell phone calling and text messaging, by age, gender, and plan type. Examines parents' views on and monitoring of cell phone-based communication as well as school restrictions.

Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults

February 3, 2010

Presents findings on 2000-09 trends in the use of social networking sites, features, and applications such as Twitter; method of Internet access; frequency of use; and online purchases and other activities by age group, race/ethnicity, and gender.

Teens and Sexting

December 15, 2009

Presents findings from a survey of 12- to 17-year-olds on trends in and attitudes toward "sexting" -- the use of cell phones to create, share, and forward sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images. Considers implications and parents' roles.