Researchers are racing to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, but experts say the humanity is many months, and probably even a year, away from seeing vaccines becoming widely available. The global economy won’t survive that much time in strict quarantine, so governments are looking for ways to ease stay-at-home restrictions while continuing to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Technology is playing a significant role in this fight as governments worldwide are launching contact tracing applications for mobile phones. The USA saw its first contact tracing app roll out in North Dakota, Alabama, and South Carolina. The app is called Care19 and was initially developed for the North Dakota Department of Health.
Build on the foundation of a recently developed Apple-Google tracing technology, the new app is already available in the AppStore and the Play Store, and can be downloaded by anyone in the USA. The app aims to collect data on visits where users spend more than ten minutes. The app is in its infancy, so it is far from perfect, but it generally does what it says on the tin. Users reported that the app tends to miss locations, so if a place does not get automatically added to the list of visited areas, users can manually add it themselves.
The app allows users to see the number of total users, and when users enter the map, a little green dot can be seen on cities with residents who have installed it already. Individual locations are not shown on the map to protect privacy. The app developers claim that no personal information will be shared. According to the app’s creators, the information is 100% anonymous and will be used in an aggregated form. If users test positive for the virus, they would be able to make location data available at their discretion to their local health authorities. The app should be able to inform its users for potential exposure so it can end up being a lifesaving tool for some.
Every user who installs the app is assigned with a code. If users decide to share this code with the health authorities, doctors will be able to take a peek into the collected information – the data would be associated with you or your device. Users can maintain ownership of the collected data, and app users may delete it at any time if they choose. According to the app developers, this action is not reversible, so once the information is removed, it is gone forever.
One way or another, contact tracing apps are going to be part of people’s everyday life in the post-Covid-19 era. Users may not be ecstatic about the fact that privacy may feel infringed or phone batteries die quicker as the app, in most cases, use location even when it isn’t open. However, health experts hope that data will end up helping disease investigators learn more about the whereabouts of people who have tested positive. Hopefully, the app will help health authorities be a step ahead of the virus, which will lead to a slower spread of the virus.