States are continuing to resist COVID19 contact tracing apps, however some developers think there’s still a chance for them to catch on. The prevailing opinion is that big tech missed its chance with coronavirus apps.
Additionally, states that have committed to using contact tracing apps are now backing away from those claims. The few states that have rolled them out have seen poor adoption rates. And there are no indications of any momentum for the apps at a national level. The reason is because the majority of apps were built without the citizen in mind, with little concern for our need for privacy, and the ever important risk vs reward associated with all app development. The majority of the contact tracing apps use GPS and Bluetooth capability to track individuals 24/7 and will notify people who have been in close contact with an infected person to prevent the the spread of COVID19.
A survey of state health officials from Business Insider this week showed that only three states — Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina — said they were going to use the software provided by Apple and Google. This number hasn’t increased since the same three states reported interest last month, and none have launched an app with the Google-Apple software.
It isn’t surprising that most technologists were hoping for large adoption rates since they usually develop with the “if we build it they will come” arrogance, but when they began planning weeks ago for the launch of contact tracing apps the same arrogance was overtaken by the public’s need for security, civil liberties and an approach to contact tracing that was developed with their behaviors and motivation in mind.
While there are some reports of successful contact tracing technology in some countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan (largely due to the government requiring citizens to use the app), the same efforts have fallen flat in the U.S.
Many of the proposed apps were the result of panicked activity among big tech firms looking for a way to capitalize on the COVID19 panic in the early days, by offering overpriced development partnerships, free apps that would ultimately provide scores of personal tracking data that could later be sold or shared, or an app that just completely feel short of public app usage behavior.
Meanwhile, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah — launched apps and didn’t gain widespread adoption. More states, including Washington, have considered doing so or have launched test versions, and it’s possible that apps will gain momentum closer to the fall, when they might be taken up by more employers.
User adoption of contact tracing apps in other countries have also been underwhelming. The U.K.’s National Health Service, Germany, Singapore and Australia have all been testing an app that relies on 24/7 tracking of its citizens, and citizens spoke back with low user adoption.
Much of the public’s skepticism has been because of the lack of accuracy and privacy which hinders the publics trust and unwillingness to use the apps and it is still unclear whether the Bluetooth technology used many of by the apps could provide the level of precision necessary to calculate people’s risk of exposure.
Regarding privacy: the big tech app builders that are “buddy-buddy” with state purchasing groups and were able to get funding for these apps without going the proper viability began building apps that would collect personal information and do very little to keep data that was collected secure, all while reassuring potential users that they were safe. This mistrust was seen in North Dakota and Utah where their contact tracing apps were exposed to be sharing data with Google and other firms for advertising. These early apps were sending data to other apps or including unneeded lines of computer code associated with advertising.
There is still an approach that can work. Even though big tech missed its with coronavirus apps, CLEARed has developed a program that does not collect user information, doesn’t rely on Google and Apple’s big brother approach, and was 100% designed with user app adoption behavior, a high risk-reward ratio and involves not only public, but the local government and businesses to help drive user adoption.