Utah’s HealthyTogether app cost the state $2.75 million, plus another $300,000 per month to maintain and is dependent upon GPS and Bluetooth tracking technology. As predicted, yet another app relying on tracking technology, Utah’s contact tracing app, is failing. As of today only 45,000 of Utah’s 3.2 million residents (1.4%) have downloaded it. BuzzFeed News reported on Tuesday, that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said on April 22 that the app, Healthy Together, would be an integral part of getting the state back on its feet: “This app will give public health workers information they need to understand and contain the pandemic and help Utahns get back to daily life.” This is highlighting the serious problem that we are having with these contact tracing apps – usability, user acquisition, and Daily Active Users (DAU) are being ignored as these apps are developed as well as blindly relying on GPS and Bluetooth approaches to help solve this problem. These factors are why Utah’s contact tracing app is failing.
“The more Utahns choose to use this application, the more clearly our public health teams will be able to see exactly where, and whom the virus is infecting. In time, this will allow us to address outbreaks with a focused approach instead of widespread stay-at-home directives,” Gov. Gary Herbert said when the state released the app in April.
However, over a month later, the app hasn’t caught on and still has limited functionality.
Low adoption and little interest from both business and citizens to use the app aside, the contact tracing app’s ability to provide Utah health officials with useful information for monitoring the state’s outbreak as it reopens is dependent on how many residents download and use the app and all signs are pointing to that it will not happen.
A study from Oxford suggests that 60% of any given population would need to adopt a contact tracing app in order for the technology to be effective. In contrast to that a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, states that nearly the same percentage (60%) of Americans said they would be unwilling or unable to use a contact tracing tool developed by Google and Apple, which is reliant on GPS and bluetooth technology to track citizens 24/7.
We at CLEARed along with other critics have said repeatedly that technology which requires our citizens to be tracked 24/7 is not going to work due to cultural and privacy concerns from the public. This being proven with apps such as the ones in South Dakota and Utah have only gotten 2% of its residents on board, the Associated Press reported. Unless our elected officials, starting with local and state governments, begin to look to alternative digital solutions that adopt a more progressive approach that includes user behavior, consumer preferences, gamification and absolutely no GPS or Bluetooth capabilities we will continue to see wasted resources and dollars on a “build it and they will come” approach.