The point of contact tracing apps was to try to play an impact in curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. However, they have only played a limited role in preventing the spread. These apps were designed to let people or a family know when they come close to another person who has received a positive test for the virus. This was done in the hopes that the people who were in contact with the person with the positive results would then also get tested and self-isolate.
Closer to the onset of the virus, there was a lot of talk in certain countries in regards to the importance of these kinds of apps. For example, content tracing apps were a part of the daily briefing about coronavirus in the U.K. for some time. Today, there is little talk of this. The way that many of these apps work is that they use Bluetooth technology to send updates if two smartphones are near each other. Location data is tracked through GPS. The big issue though is privacy. In fact, this has plagued places like Norway where a large contact tracing app had to be withdrawn from the market because its privacy was so insufficient.Read More »
Of course, the role that both Apple and Google play in really any app that is developed for smartphones is huge. The two companies were hoping to implement a decentralized network for apps focusing on contact tracing. User data would also be protected without sacrificing the overall goals of the project. This would seem like a great public relations move for both companies in fighting the virus while also keeping a close eye on privacy.
The problem is what Apple and Google developed has not really caught on. Only three states in the U.S. have mentioned they will utilize the software created by the two tech giants to create their tracing apps. Furthermore, there are no signs this software will be used anywhere at a higher level.
There are also a few issues with what Apple and Google developed. Using Bluetooth as opposed to location tracking may end with a large number of false positives because of the length of detection. Those who advocate for privacy, however, maintain that this is the best option on the market so far and there is still time for these apps to prove useful in curbing the coronavirus.
Contact Tracing Apps Across the World
Contact tracing apps have been able to achieve a wider penetration in countries outside of the United States. This includes Iceland, which had approximately 38% of its total number of its 364,000 residents install it on their mobile devices. This app did take people’s GPS data, but experts denied that it was truly effective. Experts have also concluded that it would need 60% of the people in any country to download a contact tracing app in order to be effective.
Singapore is another country that has had a fairly high penetration of a contact tracing app with one reaching about 37% of the population or 2.1 million downloads. As is the case with Iceland, that’s still quite a long ways away from the 60% that would be effective.
Ireland also recently released an app that was downloaded by 20% of the population in just 36 hours. Interestingly enough, the state of Pennsylvania is interested in modifying this app to be used by the state and possibly others.
In France, there were certainly some unlikely results from a contact tracing app that utilized Bluetooth. The app sent notifications to only 14 people to say they had been exposed to another person with the virus. The app had nearly two million downloads.
The U.K. is willing to use Google and Apple’s technology with its app. This comes after the discovery that the app that had been used in the U.K. worked much better on Androids than iPhones because of the privacy measures on the iPhone.
Germany has an app that has shown a great deal of potential. It has more than 14 million downloads and uses Apple and Google’s tech.
However, for the time being it appears that contact tracing apps are merely a supplement to the more standard methods of testing. There’s no telling how long COVID-19 could last, so it is still quite possible that tracing apps end up playing a larger role than they are now. It is also an important precedent to establish if there is another major health concern moving forward and might be something that the Federal government, CDC, and state governments all take a look at.
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