Covid-19 contact-tracing apps

5개월 전

Mobile App - Source: Pexels

There has been a lot of talk about covid-19 contact-tracing apps recently as a tool to help us understand and control the spread of the coronavirus. With some Western countries potentially just over the peak or at least flattening their curves, people are looking at what's next.

The idea of contact-tracing apps is that by running an app on your phone, it can detect if you have been near or in contact with someone who has later tested to have the virus. Currently, manual contact tracing is labour intensive and involves interviewing the patient to ascertain where they have been and who they have been close to. This is very difficult when someone has been on a bus or spent time in a public place.

There are two ways smartphone apps could help.

GPS Tracking

A smartphone can know its location through its inbuilt GPS and this data could be compared with the data from other smartphone users to determine if they have been in the same proximity.

Bluetooth Tracking

A smartphone can send out a Bluetooth identifier which can be recorded by other smartphones to see who they have been in contact with.

Contact-tracing App Effectiveness

The New Scientist reports that a University of Oxford study simulated the use of an app in a city with a population of 1 million and found that 80% of the population would need to use the app to be effective.

Singapore has created an app called TraceTogether but so far only 17% of the userbase has installed the app. Uptake may vary from country to country but still, this shows the enormity of the issue. People may say they will install it but that doesn't mean they will.

Technology Limitations

There are also concerns about the limitation of the technology. GPS obviously needs a reasonable outdoor signal to be accurate. In large cities, a lot of users may be in areas that are not easy to pinpoint through GPS because they are indoors or shadowed by tall buildings.

Bluetooth also has its limits as its signal strength can vary a lot between devices and depends on local interference. It may, therefore, be unreliable to detect if someone has been within 2m proximity for a given amount of time.

Data Security Concerns

Some of the contact-tracing apps are more centralised and may share information with other databases or partners. The Electronic Frontier Foundation who examined the data privacy issues of contact-tracing apps, do note that many other apps already track people's locations. For example, some apps might use Google Location Services, or apps such as Pokemon Go access our GPS. Other devices like our Fitbits can also track us. The important thing is that users opt-in and know where their data is being used.

Google and Apple have announced a partnership in creating a common API that apps can use. Their proposal includes publishing a public database of all contacts so that people with covid-19 diagnoses could be tracked and their contacts identified. Their proposal uses random identifiers for the individuals but this would be a big data privacy concern if someone could discover who they are from their identifier.

Unprecedented Times

We need to put any concerns into the context of the fact that we are living in unprecedented times where no one knows all the answers. The apps could make a difference even if they are not 100% effective. Yes, there are data privacy concerns but the important thing will be that it governments and big corporations don't keep tracking us after the crisis ends. Oh wait, they already do that anyway.

What do you think about the contract-tracing apps?

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Hello friend @awah, great article.

What do you think about the contract-tracing apps?

The truth this has become a very interesting discussion, we do not know how effective an application like this can be, the data can be used to pursue, it is a very complex situation taking into account that there is a number of people who are going to any device or medicine that keeps you away from the virus.

Times of crisis, atypical times, times of uncertainty.


I agree so much uncertainty that no one really knows how the world will move forward. I think some things will go back to normal relatively quickly but some things will never be the same again. Only time will tell.


Hi @fucho80, @awah

Interesting convo.

In Poland our authorities have been discussing some models in order to decide what decisions should be made.

One which I particulary liked:
We're building 2 different groups. Everyone would receive form where he/she need to decide if he/she wants to belong to 1st or 2nd group.

  1. People who are afraid of becoming sick (old, sick, with weak immune system or just simply to scared to take a risk).
    All those people will not be allowed to exit house within next 2 months. Full house quarantine. Those people would receive financial support from goverment, would have their taxes reduced etc. Also food would be provided. Their only responsibility is to stay SAFE at home.

  2. Everyone else - can be allowed to go to work, masks still necessary, social distancing still part of daily life. However this would allow economy to go back partly to normal.

It's being pointed out, that treating high-risk people and young and strong ones as one group, with similar restrictions (or lack of those restrictions) is a major mistake.

Also closing down all businesses and supporting financially entire economy is a huge expense. So focusing on giving full support to group 1, and allowing rest population to get back to their life could be cheaper and more efficient.

I wonder what's your opinion
Yours, Piotr


In Poland our authorities have been discussing some models in order to decide what decisions should be made.
This is a good step it looks like..


Yes, I like the idea of choice here. I have met (in the none physical sense) someone who is so paranoid about leaving the house at all - she was crying at the prospect. I have also seen the opposite where people are out in public behaving as if nothing as changed.

As we come out of lockdown, there will be some that it will be perceived as just too early to be out again. Especially the old and the vulnerable.


These are playing an important role in this fight.


I believe they have a place but to what extent they will help I am not sure. We will need to think about a number of different methods for staying safe in the new world we live in. Data privacy should not be our primary concern when people are dying but we need to watch that it doesn't become the new norm.

I am not really sure about it, I am just staying inside so it doesn't really matter to me. But, it might be helpful, but at the same time, it might just increase fear in people and make them insecure. So, I have a hard time actually knowing what I honestly think about them.


I think there are loads of people who are really frightened and insecure in this situation. I was speaking to a friend this week who was in tears because of the fear of the virus and the thought of going out. The reality is though, that we cannot stay in lockdown forever as we need to feed the population and the supply chain needs resources and servicing. Otherwise, we end up with an even bigger problem caused by the economy stopping which could impact health and wellbeing even more. The contact-tracing may be one way to gain more information and insight. However, I am sceptical as to what extent it will really help.

Thanks for your comment.


I like to see how responsive you are buddy

The application looks good, if I were in your city, I wold have tried it out certainly except it has crazy privacy access.

Dear @awah

I've heard already about idea of building those kind of apps and encouraging population to install it. And I'm completely against.

Right now people are being send away from the hospitals whenever they just show up (even with sympthoms) and claim that they were exposed to someone infected. So it's obvious to me, that tracking down and treating people who can be potentially sick isn't really what it's all about. Surely it's not a priority.

So one could ask a question: what is it really all about?

I surely wouldn't feel comfortable installing another "spying app" on my "spying device" (smartphone). And data security concerns are also very important reason to think twice before we would decide to install any of those apps.

Solid read, upvoted already,
Cheers, Piotr


I am usually very particular about my data privacy and in fact, I am usually the one educating people to be more careful. If these apps really worked, I would participate. However, if their effectiveness is not proven then I am not so keen to give up more of my data privacy. To be spied on as you say.

Resteemed already. Upvote on the way :)

Health Minister Jens Spahn revealed that the virus contact application to identify the presence of those exposed to Covid-19, will be ready for German citizens to download and use on their cellphones in the next three to four weeks.


That is really interesting. Do you know if is a GPS or a Bluetooth based app?

I would like to see how the German people respond to this and whether they are willing to install the app.

It is amazing to have applications that will be able to help detect COVID-19 positive patients . I hope this virus get eradicated soon.


I hope so too although it seems like quite a long road ahead of us. Although most people may get back to something like normal life - still will a form of social distancing and protection - the vulnerable people may have to remain isolated for a while until we can get a proper vaccine.

I am getting tired of this virus on a more sincere note. My country haven't gotten to 1000 case but at 600 we are getting worried. A lot of people are frustrated. With an app like this, people can go out freely with the believe that an AI app will let them know if they are coming in contact with a positive person.


I think we are all tired but my situation is quite different. I live in a big Western city, not far from a major hospital, and I hear ambulances coming and going all the time. There are so many deaths here.

The app works better if more people use it but if a few people use it, then it could give a false sense of safety.

Google and Apple have announced a partnership in creating a common API that apps can use. Their proposal includes publishing a public database of all contacts so that people with covid-19 diagnoses could be tracked and their contacts identified.

Google and Apple might have good intentions, but i must be sincere that giving out peoples data is wrong. CDC have been very discreet in not mentioning names except they are public figures so why share the data of people?


Most people don't understand what they are opting into when they click "accept" on an app install. A lot of people don't care about it either. That is why the EU made data protection so strong in law with the GDPR EU wide legislation. It is the world we live on, it is so easy to collect data.

Tracking applications have been very useful including in the health but one major concern for me is the data security. Can it be possible that data is owned by no person why apps serve as mediums to collect the data?


The question is if the app has tracked all my journeys and whereabouts, can that then be published publically? In EU GDPR regulation, any data that could be used for identifying an individual is classed as personal data. If you track someone going from my house to my office, it would be pretty easy to show that is me.

Hi @awah
How do you respond about the application?


I don't like to sacrifice my data privacy. If someone could show me that these apps really work, I might be more willing. For the moment, I am in the reluctant camp.