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Contact tracing apps for self-quarantine in South Korea: rethinking datafication and dataveillance in the COVID-19 age

Claire Seungeun Lee (School of Criminology and Justice Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 19 February 2021

Issue publication date: 24 August 2021




The first case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was documented in China, and the virus was soon to be introduced to its neighboring country – South Korea. South Korea, one of the earliest countries to initiate a national pandemic response to COVID-19 with fairly substantial measures at the individual, societal and governmental level, is an interesting example of a rapid response by the Global South. The current study examines contact tracing mobile applications (hereafter, contact tracing apps) for those who were subject to self-quarantine through the lenses of dataveillance and datafication. This paper analyzes online/digital data from those who were mandatorily self-quarantined by the Korean government largely due to returning from overseas travel.


This study uses an Internet ethnography approach to collect and analyze data. To extract data for this study, self-quarantined Korean individuals' blog entries were collected and verified with a combination of crawling and manual checking. Content analysis was performed with the codes and themes that emerged. In the COVID-19 pandemic era, this method is particularly useful to gain access to those who are affected by the situation. This approach advances the author’s understandings of COVID-19 contact tracing mobile apps and the experiences of self-quarantined people who use them.


The paper shows Korean citizens' understandings and views of using the COVID-19 self-tracing application in South Korea through examining their experiences. The research argues that the application functions as a datafication tool that collects the self-quarantined people's information and performs dataveillance on the self-quarantined people. This research further offers insights for various agreements/disagreements at different actors (i.e. the self-quarantined, their families, contact tracers/government officials) in the process of contact tracing for COVID-19.


This study also provides insights into the implications of information and technology as they affect datafication and dataveillance conducted on the public. This study investigates an ongoing debate of COVID-19's contact tracing method concerning privacy and builds upon an emerging body of literature on datafication, dataveillance, social control and digital sociology.

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Lee, C.S. (2021), "Contact tracing apps for self-quarantine in South Korea: rethinking datafication and dataveillance in the COVID-19 age", Online Information Review, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 810-829.



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