Contact tracing applications for the pandemic

Natasha Singer writes:

Computer scientists have reported accuracy problems with the Bluetooth technology used to detect proximity between smartphones. Some users have complained of failed notifications. And there is little rigorous research to date on whether the apps’ potential to accurately alert people of virus exposures outweighs potential drawbacks — like falsely warning unexposed people, over-testing or failing to detect users exposed to the virus.

I have been sitting on the fence for the contact tracing applications. Earlier in the pandemic course, I had written something around data privacy and the requirement for reigning in the big tech, because these solutions require deliberation by elected representatives (and hence accountable), rather than faceless private corporations. Sadly, on expected lines, the applications failed to live up to their standards (and hype). They were relying on bluetooth to seek other users and alert community if two individuals were found positive.

As again, while NYT attempts to whitewash the omissions and raise its customary feverish pitch for “privacy”, it is required to understand that governments, across the world, are dragging their feet on the inevitable. Digitisation of “health-stacks” is inevitable – because rapid decision-making requires solid data pools. The system requires to be fault tolerant for inevitable and unexplainable delays; especially if the complete infrastructure must be brought under one uniform standard.

More than 28,000 people in Colorado have used the state’s alert system, CO Exposure Notifications, to warn others of possible virus exposures.
Thr new form of “mass-surveillance”?

Privacy debates are extremely nuanced, and it pays for the big-tech to sow confusion and weather the “PR storms”. Here’s something more important:

But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

I believe the pandemic is going to reset the expectations from the health care delivery with better throughput of ideas and execution.

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