Privacy advocacy groups remained concerned about contact tracing measures intended to combat coronavirus and could now be used to track citizens, indefinitely, beyond the outbreaks. The fears of government “big brother” type scenarios come as apps intended to help curb COVID-19 outbreaks become a permanent fixture in daily life in some areas across the world. Could Contact Tracing apps become permanent?
For instance in China, the city of Hangzhou plans to make contact tracing apps mandatory and permanent. In India, the government has made their state developed contact tracing app, which relies on Bluetooth and GPS data, mandatory for certain workers, as well as for all passengers on public transportation in the country.
In the U.S. many states and cities have looked at this strategy, after seeing its use in nations like China, Singapore and South Korea. But there is one big difference in how usage would play out in the West as opposed in the East. China, and other asian states have made the contact tracing apps mandatory and requiring every citizen who ventures out to use the apps. This has help in their success. However in more democratized countries like the U.K. Australia and other European states the usage of these apps is voluntary and there has been one surprising outcome that is vastly different than China, India and Singapore. People aren’t using the apps.
Why is adoption so low in countries like the U.K., Australia, Canada and soon to be United States? People don’t want to be tracked 24/7, even at the risk of personal health. Data dating back 15 years, clearly shows that app usage across all functions of life have a very low adoption rate and DAU (daily active users) if there is little to no personal reward for the user. This is most prevalent is apps related to personal health and public service.
If new contact tracing apps are going to reach the needed 60%-70% adoption they must be developed with the consumer in mind and the app must be designed with ease of use, simplicity, gamification and risk-reward. If a user sees no immediate benefit in using a contact tracing app, they will never use it after download. The other roadblock for contact tracing apps is privacy. Almost every public effort going into contact tracing is rushing blindly to Google and Apple’s miracle GPS and Bluetooth solution without once thinking about the user and whether or not millions of citizen’s would be ok with having their personal movements tracked 24/7 regardless of the promises made that their data will be secured and not on a centralized server. This promise has already been broken in countries like Australia which realized serious security flaws in their COVID Safe app just hours after releasing. In the U.S., North and South Dakota rushed contact tracing app was exposed as sharing user data with Google and multiple advertising platforms. And even with all of these proof points, countries and states are still moving forward with GPS and Bluetooth tracking believing the age old saying “if we build it, they will come”. The reality is most of the 24 apps on the market today that rely on GPS and Bluetooth tracking are seeing a 1-2% download and DAU rate.
Alternatively as contact tracing strategies are discussed across the country and world, it’s going to be down to the government to say, when and if society can go back to normal, or if contact tracing apps could become permanent in order to stop COVID-19 from making a strong comeback.
Whatever the course, contact tracing apps should be built with user privacy in mind from the outset. We also need laws and regulations, which would impose policy restrictions on what apps can and can’t do with user location data. Ultimately, if apps are optional, and people can just turn them off, there should also be legislation that requires all data collection to stop.
Currently, the U.S. does not have plans for a nationwide app, leaving states to make such decisions of their own. Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina, for example, have said they will create apps using tech from Apple and Google to help conduct tracing. It is probable that these apps will have little impact due to low downloads and DAU. However, contact tracing seen as essential by many experts in stopping a future spread of the virus, with the (CDC) Centers for Disease Control describing it as “a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19.” So what do we do if citizen’s aren’t ok with being tracked and GPS tracking solutions from Google and Apple are not the answer? There is a better way. CLEARed has developed a way to provide communities simple contact tracing that is focused on the Citizen. Our solution never uses GPS or Bluetooth, never captures your personal data and by design cannot share any of your information with 3rd parties. Contact us today to start a conversation.