How App-Based Contact Tracing May Significantly Reduce Pandemic Spread

App-based contact tracing is a joint effort of Apple and Google to unite people in coping with the Covid-19 spread. It is meant to connect 3.5 billion devices across the world, but will it really do this?

The outbreak of Covid-19 was a significant blow to everybody. The world was not prepared for the global pandemic and continues to struggle to find a vaccine against it. The implications of Coronavirus are paralyzing every nation. Despite a six-month worldwide lockdown, the future does not look bright. The virus is accelerating, and no government has succeeded in stopping this pandemic disease by now. The lack of a vaccine makes everything more complicated. No epidemiologist can foresee the end of it, so fighting with Covid-19 for another year is high.

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There is hope, however, that humans will be stronger than the infection. The most significant weapon in the hands of humanity is technology. Besides extensive vaccine research engaging more than 150 countries, two Tech Giants started the largest tech campaign to protect healthy people from catching Coronavirus and slow down the pace of virus proliferation.

Apple-Google collaboration

In April 2020, Apple and Google announced that they are willing to collaborate to set up a planet-spanning network combining 3.5 billion Android and iOS devices and tracking the transmission of Covid-19. This robust solution is aimed to bring an outbreak under control by engaging the global population with one broad Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform. Should it be successful, governments and public health authorities will considerably reduce the infection rates and detect potentially infectious people faster.

How does contact tracking technology work?

The contact tracking technology is intended to put intelligent social distancing in place that allows keeping healthy people from Coronavirus exposure. Automated contact tracing lets the user scan people within close proximity to the risk of contagion. Bluetooth lets nearby devices communicate and exchange information about presymptomatic and infected individuals. When one person becomes infected with Covid-19, they update their status in the app, and the database sends alerts to the people on the infected person’s list. As a result, any person in question can inform those in contact with them about potential Coronavirus exposure. Each device connected to the network broadcasts a string of diagnosis keys that changes every 15 minutes to keep all the users in privacy. However, when someone happens to be infected, the signal becomes stronger and sends the message that the risk of catching Covid-19 in a specific area is high.

Ethical considerations

As much as the idea of the Apple-Google partnership, so-called Grapple, sounds invigorating, there are a few major hurdles that make Bluetooth-based contact tracing complicated to implement. The first inconvenience is tied to the peculiarity of iOS: an iPhone must constantly be open for a Covid-19 app to work, which is not simple to do.

The second one arises from public concern with data security and transparency. Most people are reluctant to disclose their location. Luckily, Bluetooth-based apps bypass it by allowing users to hide their data through a decentralized approach. Apple and Google have released Bluetooth short-range wireless protocols and APIs and Bluetooth and cryptography specifications that will allow every country to design its Covid-19 app concerning privacy and security issues.

The last difficulty lies in the fact that at least 60% of the population should start using this breed of apps to harness the contact tracing technology and make the most out of it. But in reality, only a sixth of the country’s population have downloaded such apps in Iceland, Ireland, Australia, and other countries. People are insufficiently encouraged to adopt this technology to detect the infection at the early stages. They need to feel that the use of such apps contributes to global well-being, but it is yet to be established.

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Contract tracing’s new era

Over 30 governments have already finished the design of COVID-19 apps. Their use is meant to be provided in all institutions, organizations, and public places that continue working during the lockdown.

These are some of the COVID-19 apps.

Ranking C-1. This app for Android and iOS launched by the Islandic government was downloaded by 38% of the Icelandic population, which is the largest take-up threshold in the world.

COVIDSafe. This app is used in Australia and designed to detect an infected person within an area of 1.5 meters.

CoronApp. This app was financed by the Colombian government and is now used by 1.2 million users, each having 1Gb per month to monitor the risk of infection.

Corona Map Saudi Arabia. This app is integrated with a chatbot that gives users the basic information on the Covid-19 pandemic and provides the latest updates worldwide.

All the apps are faced with the same challenges: the need for transparent algorithms, secure data management, and minimal imposition on users. They impact user engagement and eventually, the level of Covid-19 awareness among the public.

How to stop the pandemic spread via App-Based Contact Tracing

Building apps to track infection is a smart thing. It empowers governments to curb the pandemic and allows everybody to pin their hopes for a safer future. Intelligent social distancing can be an effective way to reduce the spread of the virus. Although it has several weaknesses (for example, it excludes all people who do not own a smartphone), Bluetooth-based contact tracing can become a game-changer. It will never replace a vaccine, but it allows us to buy time and stay safer. If governments pay closer attention to data security and give people sound reasons for installing such apps, the threat of Covid-19 can be handled more effectively and with far smaller losses.

About the author: Kyle McDermott is a web developer, blogger, blockchain enthusiast, and business analyst. He loves to write about new technologies, business news, and sports events. Kyle is also a proofreader at Computools. Follow him on Twitter.