EVERYTHING’S in the blender. Eight months ago, I was favourably reviewing critiques of “surveillance capitalism”. My long-standing internet idealism was beginning to be replaced – with scepticism and anxiety about its overweening powers.

And yesterday? I downloaded a ScotGov health app, agreeing to have my proximity to others intimately tracked, via a system jointly developed by the American corporations Google and Apple. Which was commissioned, and will be administered, by public authorities.

What’s changed? You know what. There’s a calm explanation available for Thursday’s launch of ScotGov’s Protect Scotland app, aimed at helping to track and trace the Covid-19 virus in the wider population. “Contact tracing” is a time-honoured method for controlling contagion and pandemic.

Thousands of health officials fan out through a population. They map those who have come into contact with the explicitly infected. And they then encourage (or enforce) their quarantine or seclusion.

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Yet who could possibly remember all such contacts we might have made, in the melee of our urban and suburban lives? We also now live in a thick matrix of information networks. Could they become a means of both automating, and scaling up, the rate of detection?

The specific design answers to the last question is where ethics, and national politics, come into the picture. We’re in a global landscape where some nations have chosen pretty draconian options (more on them below). I would assess that the Scottish Covid app has fallen on the privacy-conscious side of the line.

The core system it uses – called the Google-Apple Exposure Notifications System – has been, to my eyes, explicitly crafted to answer the anxieties of a post-Edward Snowden/GCHQ generation.

Google-Apple stress the decentralised, rather than centralised, manner of their information gathering.

When you switch the app on, your phone’s Bluetooth channel – specifically designed to connect to those physically close – sends frequently anonymised (in fact, randomly numerical) “tokens” to others’ phones around you. And they send theirs to you. The information recorded is about how close you were to them, and/or how long you were near to them.

The crucial thing is that this token info is held directly on the phones, and doesn’t feed into a central server (whether owned by the Californian giants, or by the Scottish state/NHS). When someone is medically confirmed as positively infected, NHS Scotland gives them a code to put into their app.

This then automatically contacts the list of proximate people whose tokens you’ve gathered over the last 14 days. If you’re contacted, the app then suggests who you should call in the NHS, to advise you on your isolation options.

The story told by the system makers is that it’s the software on the app which algorithmically calculates the level of risk for these anonymous others. Not some shadowy, nosey bureaucrat at Health Command Central. They’re also very explicit that your location is not tracked (via the GPS on your phone).

As you might easily guess, the more people that use this, and that have faith in the system, the better it functions – 60% of the population is often cited in the research literature as a really effective level (though ScotGov is saying 20% is when it starts to be useful).

Are you feeling the warm waves of trust rising up your shift? It would be easy to induce them. I only need to cite several hair-raising global examples of how digital privacy and rights are being trashed by roguish states, using Covid as the excuse.

Poland’s app uses location data and compels you to upload a domestic selfie: this image will be kept on government servers for six years. Russia installed 100,000 image recognition cameras, equipping them to instantly fine those who broke their quarantines getting groceries.

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Serbia’s government demands your phone number, in order to follow your movements. Israel uses a counter-terrorism system called “The Tool” to monitor Covid cases (and revealed they’d been using it on their domestic population for years).

ROMANIA, Germany and Liechtenstein have trialled biometric bracelets for those infected. France and Greece tried to use drones to monitor errant citizens (before the courts struck their usage down).

Then there’s the challenge of South-East Asian democracies such as Taiwan and South Korea. Their populations seem to be relaxed about a strong state computing vast tranches of their personal digital data. And about them being micro-punitive with those who infringe restrictions.

Is this a Confucian-communitarian mindset, implying a stronger commitment to social balance and harmony than here – and thus greater acceptance of measures that maintain it? If so, then we may have chosen the specific Covid app which matches our own sensibilities.

However, that sensibility also implies vigilance, and the right to ask awkward questions. One crucial factor that’s come up, as I’ve been reading the technical literature, is the way the app is set up to measure how lengthy an “infectious” contact might be. As the FT puts it: “If the required duration of contact on the app is set too narrowly – to just a few seconds, say – users might be pinged repeatedly. A grocery clerk or a public transit rider might come within 10 metres of an infected person multiple times in a single hour.

“Each alert is likely to be read as a personal doomsday message direct from the health authority. The result could be numerous false alerts that create total havoc and paranoia – or just lead to people opting out.”

This won’t be easy to get right. Yet we also need to be literate and specific about the destinations we don’t want these apps to creep towards. I note that England and Wales’s forthcoming Covid app (Whitehall’s second go) will have a QR Code scanner.

This will inform users of the infection history of the place they’re walking into.

Our citizens’ task is to make sure that the process doesn’t start to work in reverse. Meaning that these apps could become “digital passports”, allowing or disallowing entry to locations on the basis of the personalised information their phones contain.

China already operates a colour-coded coronavirus categorisation of citizens. Those with a green code can move past checkpoints in subway stations, restaurants, hotels, and apartment blocks.(China’s appalling bio-digital control of more than 12 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang is a whole other column).

But let’s be honest: it’s too handy to point to the depredations of authoritarian regimes. It absolves us of our own technological sins.

In 2019 I interviewed the American academic Shoshana Zuboff, who coined the idea of “Surveillance Capitalism” that I mentioned at the beginning.

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Zuboff said that being a relentless “instrumentarian” – endlessly measuring your digital users in order to make them an influenceable target to sell to advertisers – was the prime business model of these information giants. From a distance, it’s hard to distinguish this from the authoritarian practices of the official baddies.

Whether you’re an oppressed subject, or a blithe consumer, you still don’t get access to this total picture of your informational life (or “social graph”, as the techies call it).

Does an independent Scotland provide an opportunity to think deeply and broadly about how the citizenry benefits from its absorption into digital networks? It does – if we can try to chew gum and walk at the same time.

By which I mean: we can accept that the containment of a pandemic requires co-operation and solidarity to be expressed – in new ways, and by new means.

But can we also accept that the detailed design of this is partly our responsibility? Our governments need the people to intricately value their freedoms. Even in difficult circumstances like these, where we’re grappling with the entanglements of a network society, amidst a disrupted biosphere.

The big ideas are sometimes everyday liberties, as well as “moonshots” and “wars on viruses”. Scotland’s Covid app seems to be aware of that. So far, so good.