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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On Contact Tracing Apps

Intriguing piece I have only scanned so far.  What got me most interested is that the tracing aspect included a considerable human element, at least if you were not willing to do lots of sharing of location information that could well be seen as very privacy invasive, her a considerable, non-technical look at the challenge.   

Everything You Have Read About Contact Tracing Apps Is Wrong  in Knowledge@Wharton

Technology sounds like an attractive solution to contact tracing, but apps are at best a minor supplement to a large effort. In this opinion piece, Lyle Ungar writes that “we should be taking best practices from call centers, where human callers are supported by chatbots and information systems, supplemented with privacy-respecting apps on people’s phones that allow them to share information more easily and accurately. In the end, contact tracing is not an app, but a combined effort between technology, human tracers, and the general population.” Ungar is a machine learning researcher and professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Contact tracing is key to reopening society. Best estimates put widespread vaccination in the U.S. more than two years in the future, and we can’t safely resume public life until we can identify who has been exposed to COVID-19, test them for the disease, and isolate them if they are sick. The U.S. has far too few human contact tracers, with states planning to hire only a tiny fraction of the estimated 180,000 contract tracers needed. Contract tracing apps have been proposed as one way to mitigate this problem. People are worried about their privacy; they should be even more worried about whether the apps will help. Even expert articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), underestimate the challenges.

Most of the discussion of contact tracing focuses on exposure notification apps (i.e., TraceTogether, PwC), which use Bluetooth signals to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. The most widely supported protocols (by Google and Apple) respect privacy; they broadcast and receive random numbers from your phone, but don’t reveal your name or phone numbers. Google and Apple do not allow the apps to share geolocation or other private information. Such apps are only effective in relatively tight communities, such as universities, where high adoption rates can be achieved. In a general community, where adoption is voluntary, adoption rates are vastly lower (the highest adoption rates are 32% in Australia and 38% in Iceland) and so the apps are virtually useless.  ... "

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