Epidemiology Fast Forward

Paul-Olivier Dehaye
2 min readMay 11, 2020

Have you been convinced in the past few days that digital contact tracing was just manual contact tracing, but automated? Well, it most definitely is not!

Anyone who thinks so needs to read The Illuminati Correspondence Fast Forward and try to reflect on what it means for a historian to have this view on a social network propagating viral material:

  • How was the data obtained?
  • What biases does the data collection introduce?
  • How was it graphed? Is that graph accurate?
  • What biases does the visualization introduce?

There are many such subtleties you will miss upon first, second and third look at the main video in the previous link.

Sample of the video in The Illuminati Correspondence Fast Forward, showing correspondence exchanges among intellectuals belonging to the Illuminati in the 18th century. This is visualized through open source software built by Uber, called Kepler.gl.

There are at least three objective reasons why digital contact tracing as currently suggested is not merely automated and scaled up manual contact tracing:

  • Legal: Manual contact tracing team usually don’t require consent at any step, or can at least easily override their target’s refusals. Once you are at risk, you become a target, it is usually mandatory for you to talk to them once at that stage, and it was not an individual decision for them to have this power. Digital contact tracing completely upends this causal chain, with — for better or worse — each individual opting into this system at each stage.
  • Mathematical: Digital contact tracing samples on edges in a graph, rather than acquaintances of an infected person. This introduces issues of bias differently, and in a more potent way depending on adoption. (actually, is that really true? isn’t there more critical nuance in modeling it this way?)
  • Technical: Digital contact tracing protocols (such as DP3T or ROBERT) introduce many subtle communication side channels, at the heart of the crypto community’s current War of Religion around protocols used for contact tracing apps.



Paul-Olivier Dehaye

Mathematician. Co-founder of PersonalData.IO. Free society by bridging ideas. #bigdata and its #ethics, citizen science