As cases continue to spike in the United States in June, Apple and Google are still promoting their partnership: The longtime rivals worked together to create a GPS and Bluetooth contact-tracing – COVID19 APP technology – that public-health authorities could use to track the spread of COVID-19.
However, four months later few of the promised technological solutions have been rolled out. Why?
In a recent survey done by Business Insider state health agencies in all 50 states and Washington, DC, said they not planning to use the technology proposed by Apple and Google, and many said they weren’t planning an app at all. Some states said they planned to rely only on human contact tracers.
One of the main reasons for the unsuccessful launch of the Google/Apple promise, is the lack of adoption and privacy concerns leaving little room for the tech giants might to play a major role in the global coronavirus response.
States’ are reluctant to use Apple and Google’s tech
In the same Business Insider survey, only three states — Alabama, South Carolina, and North Dakota — have committed to using Apple and Google’s contact-tracing tech. Another nineteen states said they were considering developing a contact-tracing app and 17 states stated they were not planning to create an app or use smartphone-based contact tracing at all. The remaining 11 states did not clarify any plans to use contact-tracing apps or did not respond. Washington, DC, said it would use human-based contact tracing and did not indicate any plans for an app.
The low adoption rate creates a problem for Apple and Google’s initiative. In order for smartphone-based contact tracing to work, experts say, at least 60% of a country’s population has to adopt it. Singapore, one of the first countries to roll out a Bluetooth contact-tracing app, in March, saw only about 20% adoption. COVID-19 cases spiked in the country despite the app’s rollout.
Some states plan to rely only on human contact tracers
Many states are opting for human contact tracers who interview COVID-19 patients. New York is hiring up to 17,000 contact tracers, and California is hiring up to 20,000; neither state has committed to using a contact-tracing smartphone app. Georgia, Maine, and Indiana are also among the states that are relying solely on human systems right now.
However, using an app means the smartphone keeps a record of the people the patient has come in close contact with and can automatically alert them once the patient tells the app that they have tested positive.
The google/apple and similar systems have their own flaws. For example, relying on the GPS and Bluetooth signal risks producing false positives and negatives. But apps could speed up contact tracing and would mean less reliance on human tracers, though experts have said.
Privacy concerns continue to be the biggest hurdle for apps
Apple and Google continue to emphasize that privacy is at the top of their agenda, but concerns remain about contact-tracing technology and its ramifications for user privacy. A recent review by Jumbo found that North Dakota’s contact-tracing app was sharing user data with Foursquare and Google themselves. The public opinion is already skeptical of big tech and privacy. Over the years the mistrust has grown due to the invasive tech of Google Ads, Alexa, Siri and others that are continuously listening in our private conversations, analyzing our search data and proactively intruding on our daily lives. Not to mention the numerous accounts of Apple and Google meddling in our PHI data and health records causing even more distrust.
But privacy may not be the only major obstacle here. This week, The Guardian reported on a new study (which hasn’t been peer-reviewed) that found that people who thought they’d had COVID-19 were less likely to download a contact-tracing app.
As states continue to reopen more aggressively, the adoption of contact-tracing apps across the US is still incredibly low, and some states have no plans to adopt the technology. Texas, one of the first states to relax stay-at-home orders, has reported a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations and new cases, but has no intention to adopt app technology.
Here are the states that have committed to using contact-tracing tech from Apple and Google:
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
Here are the states that have not made a decision about using Apple and Google’s contact-tracing technology:
- West Virginia
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Four of these states — Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington — have already started developing contact-tracing apps that do not use Apple and Google tech. Rhode Island’s app will use both GPS tracking and Bluetooth proximity tracking, while Washington’s app relies on Bluetooth. South Dakota’s app, Care19, tracks location data and has been criticized for sharing that data with third parties. Virginia has not disclosed how its app will work.
Here are the states that have no plans to build a smartphone-based system:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
If you are interested in learning how to implement a contact tracing system that doesn’t compromise security and does not rely on Google or Apple, contact us to start a conversation.