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People Shirk Covid-19 Contact Tracing Apps over Privacy Issues

  /  Artificial Intelligence   /  People Shirk Covid-19 Contact Tracing Apps over Privacy Issues
COVID-19, contact tracing app privacy

People Shirk Covid-19 Contact Tracing Apps over Privacy Issues

Apple and Google have come up with a privacy framework for governments to encourage more downloads and usage.


Covid-19 has brought the economy to a standstill. However, it is remarkable that the technology sector started blooming extremely during the pandemic. The reason behind this is the rush of society to look for quick solutions.

Starting from office works to making home delivery of groceries, everything is a technology implemented. Office works based on work from the home pattern are connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud platforms. Grocery and basic utility shopping are extended by delivery applications. Henceforth, people are ready to accept the changes that the pandemic has created.

Things look to be working well. Now, what about the major threat coronavirus that is spreading at the lightning speed? Scientists and researchers are working on vaccines and medicines. However hard they work, the vaccines will be out only after completing clinical and human trials. The only way that we have in hand currently to contain the disease is by tracing the contacts of infected people.

Governments across the globe are coming up with solutions by merging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track contacts. But what is often forgotten from their side is the thin line between tracing the suspected Covid-19 people and breach of privacy. One wrong move and the whole population is against the government. Kerala showed an example of what could happen if privacy is breached.

People in the state of Kerala caused a furor over the police action to go through call detail records (CDRs) of Covid-19 patients to track their contacts and force them on home quarantine and get tested. People thought this to be a breach of privacy and questioned the legality involved in the process. It is not just them; people across the globe are against the government going after their private data. Here are some of the worst fails while trying to trace Covid-19 patient’s contact.


Location tracking application to notify people

 A contract tracing app was developed by Apple and Google. Covidwise was first launched in Virginia followed by Alabama, Arizona, North Dakota, and Wyoming. A report suggests that 20 other states will start introducing similar apps which could reach half the population of the US.

Covidwise worked on alerting people on Covid-19 patients if they are near the app users. The government was less aware that people did not want them to use the apps as a backdoor surveillance platform. The other issue with prohibiting personalized data linkage or collection is that health authorities cannot mandate or enforce or even track isolation or testing. It is up to the people to decide. Remarkably, a report published this month by UK researchers suggests that even under the optimistic assumption, which is defined as 75-80% of smartphone owners installing an app and 90-100% of users adhering to advice to isolate or seek testing. There is no evidence that these people are following the guidelines provided by the application.


Bluetooth based application to know the whereabouts

Another such contact tracing app originated in Singapore. It detects and tags other phones in the patient’s vicinity using Bluetooth. The idea of the app was to capture the spread of infections on local hotspots. However, the app went in vain when Google and Apple came up with a privacy-first framework to stop governments and health agencies from gathering data. Even before that, the innovators found that it is going to be less effective. The comparative compliant population has seen mandatory location check-ins in a multitude of entertainment venues, workplaces, and health facilities, as well as public tokens introduced to supplement its apps.

It is not just these two, other such applications also either faced a backlash from people or were ignored. Some countries that did contact tracking effectively manually were Korea and Taiwan. Much more intrusive measures were taken by China and Israel. There is always a debate on the balance between privacy and efficiency. Before asking people to install the applications government should take steps to first assure people that their data is protected and private space is provided.