The coronavirus outbreak has become a global health crisis that has threatened to eliminate millions of people and over-turn societies across the globe. However, history has revealed time and time again that exceptions there is always a solution to a problem, and these solutions usually outlast the crisis itself. With the emergence of digital defenses, proximity tracking apps might be the answer to the problem of breach of privacy and location tracking. App developers and the government, though, must consider the policy limitations on utilizing these apps. Finally, the decision to use them should come from the individual users who must learn what they can about the risks and boundaries of using these defenses.
How Proximity Apps Work
There are a variety of suggestions for using Bluetooth-based tracking apps, but at a more sophisticated level, they start with a similar style. This app boasts of a distinct identifier over Bluetooth that other phones near it can sense. To protect privacy, people suggest that users have each phone’s identifier regularly revolved to avoid third-party tracking. When two people using the app are near each other, the proximity app calculates the distance between each other through Bluetooth signal. If their distance from each other is less than six feet for a substantial amount of time, the apps exchange identifiers. It then logs the encounter with the different id. The app only needs to know if the users are substantially close together to develop a risk of infection.
When a user learns that he is infected with the coronavirus, other users can be warned of their risk of getting infected. This is where varied designs for the app differ. Some apps depend on one or more authorities that have restricted access to details about the users’ gadgets. Trace Together, for instance, created for the Singapore government, need all users to give out their contact details to the app admins. When a user is positive, the app uploads the names of all identifiers that it has encountered for the past two weeks. Other models depend on a database that does not keep the complete details about the user. For example, it’s not essential for an authority to store real contact details. Instead, infected users can give out their contact logs to a central database, not an app admin. It stores anonymous identifiers for those who could have been exposed to the virus. Thus, the gadgets of uninfected users can frequently ping the central authorities with their own ids. With these primary defenses in place, the app could efficiently protect user privacy.
Conventional And Proximity App Contact Tracing
Conventional contact tracing is quite taxing but also more thorough in terms of information. Public health workers usually interview the individual infected with coronavirus to know more about him and the people that he has been in close contact with. They may ask his family members and others who may also have more information about the infected individual, like his co-workers. The health workers contact these people and treat them in case they need it. It is not easy to do this during a global crisis. Additionally, people don’t always remember everything entirely, so the answers may not be as accurate as they need to be.
A proximity app, on the other hand, is not an alternative for these interviews and direct approaches. It is impossible for the app to sufficiently help perform COVID-19 contact tracing during these challenging times, as community transmission is elevated, so much so that people are advised to shelter in place. Also, there is not enough testing to be able to track the virus completely. When the number of undiagnosed infectious individuals continually increases, the proximity app would most probably be incapable of warning everyone who is at risk.
However, the proximity app can really be beneficial with contact tracing during this period, which we hope and pray will end soon, when the spread of the virus stops and when there is enough testing to diagnose the virus effectively.
Right now, we still are facing an unexpected pandemic. Thousands of people have died, and millions continue to shelter in place. There is presently no cure for it. This actually causes an urgency to create more proximity projects, but we must also keep in mind that this global crisis will end while these tracking technologies won’t. Proximity app developers then must make sure that they are creating a technology that will protect the privacy and freedom that we so value.