The race to develop smartphone apps and other types of mobile phone surveillance systems to track and contain the spread of the novel coronavirus continuous in the joint project known as “contact tracing” which is used to control the spread of infectious diseases.
Last week when the top two smartphone software makers, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Apple Inc, said they were collaborating on apps that can identify people who have crossed paths with a contagious patient and alert them.
Experts Explain, how can phones help with contact tracing?
Using Bluetooth, smartphones can log other phones they have been near. If someone becomes infected, there is a ready list of their prior encounters. Phones on the list would get push notifications urging them to get tested or self-isolate.
This system is more efficient than traditional contact tracing methods that require large staffs to interview patients about their travels and then call or knock on the doors of contacts.
The Bluetooth solution is such a great choice since phones can log one another even when 15 feet apart or on separate sides of a wall, even though a cough from an infected person likely would not be problematic in those cases. But developers have been working on ways to better define “contacts” based on the length and strength of so-called handshakes between devices.
Bluetooth also remains more accurate than GPS or cell tower location data, which can wrongly associate everyone on a busy city block as contacts.
What about privacy and security concerns?
The most sensitive issue is who can view a phone’s list of devices it has crossed. Nearly everyone agrees on deleting logs after about one month.
The tools coming from Google and Apple keep names off contact lists and leave the lists secret to everyone involved, which has drawn plaudits from privacy experts. Only governments, which must verify that people who say they tested positive for coronavirus actually did so, would know the identity of disease carriers, and even they would not have access to the contact lists.
To debate the conspiracy theory, Apple And Google are not the first to develop the contact tracing apps.
- Singapore pioneered contact tracing via Bluetooth with an app called TraceTogether.
- Israel, which made headlines by employing its powerful government surveillance system to track cases, has also rolled out an app called The Shield.
- India also has an app.
- South Korea is using mobile phone location data for contact tracing, while Taiwan uses it for quarantine enforcement and is also developing an app.
- China is employing a range of app-based tracking systems.
Meanwhile, dozens of efforts to develop contact tracing apps are underway around the world, many led by government research institutes and health authorities.
Now let us make it easier to understand how doese it works :