ADM Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Sweden

New report: 'Automated Decision-Making Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A European Perspective' by AlgorithmWatch and Bertelsmann Stiftung – a special issue of the upcoming Automating Society Report 2020, to be published in October.

Country analysis: Sweden

By Anne Kaun

The ADM initiatives developed in response to COVID-19 can roughly be described as either voluntary or involuntary.

COVID-19 symptom-checkers

Of the voluntary initiatives, at least three applications have been developed to document and map symptoms among the Swedish population. One of these apps was developed by a non-profit group—made up of private individuals who met at the fifth Hack the Crisis hackathon—and it maps the development and spread of COVID-19 based on the self-reporting of symptoms.

A second app, initially developed in the UK, is now used by a research group based at Lund University to similarly track COVID-19 symptoms and the development of the disease among patients. App users register voluntarily and are asked to report their health status on a daily basis.

The last initiative was based on a collaboration between the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndighet för samhällsskydd och beredskap), the Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) and the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen). In collaboration with industry partners, the three public agencies worked on a digital tool to map experiences of symptoms among the population.

Although the tool was completed, it was never implemented. On 28 April 2020, Ander Tegnell – the state epidemiologist – announced that the initiative would be paused for now as it potentially does more harm than good by worrying and confusing Swedes with the collected information.

In the context of discussions around a similar application used in Norway, which has been downloaded by 1.6 million citizens, Tegnell announced that a similar tracking app might be useful, in some instances, at a later stage of the pandemic when there are few, individual cases left.

Journalists later explored several issues with the project. Firstly, the contracts with industry partners (mainly Platform24 Healthcare—which is owned by the Wallenberg investment company and Apoteket AB—which uses a cloud service solution provided by Amazon Web Services) were signed, without the necessary public procurement procedures. Secondly, the partners were continuously paid even though the project is on hold.

Analysing Telia’s mobile phone data

One major initiative—not based on voluntary participation by the population—is the analysis of mobile phone data by Sweden’s largest service provider Telia. The Public Health Agency of Sweden asked Telia to help analyze anonymized and aggregated data on mobility. This helped the public agency analyze how people moved during the pandemic. The data, and the mapping of the movement of people during the Easter break, were widely publicized in Swedish media.

Correction: An earlier version of this section claimed that a Norwegian COVID-19 symptom checker app was downloaded by 60% of the country's population. This is incorrect and we corrected the section.

Download the full report as PDF (1 MB).

Automated Decision-Making Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A European Perspective is a special issue of the report Automating Society 2020 by AlgorithmWatch and Bertelsmann Stiftung, to be published in October. Subscribe to the our newsletter to be alerted when the report is out.