Using technology to track and monitor the spread of Covid-19 has become the new normal across the globe. Now, the New York is adopting the strategy, rolling out the Covid-19 Alert mobile application for contact tracing. The Covid tracking app launched for New York is free and available in 6 languages. Similar applications have received mixed reviews in New Jersey and Washington DC. Naturally there is some hesitation and suspicion surrounding the idea of being tracked but developers have insisted the technology will protect user privacy. On the flip side this is tech that has potential to save lives. So is it worth it?
How does it work?
NYC news sources have released detailed instructions for how to download and activate the user friendly app. According to a tweet published by Governor Cuomo of NY,
“(The app) will tell you if you were within six feet of a person who tested positive for 10 minutes. It will tell you if you’re in contact with a COVID-positive person.”
Available for both Android and Apple, the app allows users to track infection numbers in their local county, and be notified when they’ve come in close contact with anyone who has the virus.
Privacy and location data
“COVID Alert NY is a voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app. You will get an alert if you were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Knowing about a potential exposure allows you to self-quarantine immediately, get tested and reduce the potential exposure risk to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others.”
This message is straightforward enough, but there is a concern about exactly what data is being shared, and how.
According to CNBC, the app does not track your location constantly or report that data to any other parties. The sole function is closeness- detection, meaning that your bluetooth sensors will be used to detect other app users who are nearby. The bluetooth technology does not track names or any identifying information and none of the information gathered is stored anywhere but on your phone. If you delete the app you delete the data.
So, while you are safe from being followed virtually, you are also only going to know infection rates for people who have downloaded the app as well. The WENY reports that Cuomo confirms the app “doesn’t give names, doesn’t give any privacy information.” Other public figures were quoted as saying that the app is completely confidential and completely a voluntary program.
New York and New Jersey both released the alert apps last week, bringing the figures up to seventy million people accessing a Covid19 Alert app. This means that a full 21% of the U.S. population can be alerted when coming into contact with an active case of coronavirus, according to a census study by CNBC.
Does the app work, and should you download it?
The efficacy of similar applications are still being tested in various countries and states, but overall it looks like this may be a successful tool, resulting in faster detection of Covid19 cases.
The catch is the lack of communication between apps- both between countries and between individual states in the USA. This means that persons travelling or organisations conducting pandemic research will not be able to rely on the apps. For instance, if an individual with Covid19 had the NYC app, it may not alert someone with the NJ application and vice versa. This issue is being worked on by Apple and Google to open the doors to better reporting and data sharing, while still remaining within the privacy boundaries.
Should you try the Covid tracking app launched for New York?
So should you try it? All in all, the decision is yours and yours alone. Many feel the privacy and data concern seems to be of little value compared to the possible benefit of catching a Covid19 case early. If you have elderly relatives, or loved ones with comorbidities, you may want to take every precaution to protect them. On the other hand, we should be paying attention to our online privacy. Big Tech continues to push boundaries in terms of data collection and it is important that we keep asking questions.
There is always a tradeoff between privacy and safety. South Korea has been very successful in contact tracing but they have resorted to methods that most of the western world would not acquiesce to. Among the methods used are tracing credit card transactions and surveillance footage. We need to decide what we are comfortable with and then weigh that against the potential lives saved.
If you are interested in trying out the app you can download it HERE.
For more information about how Covid-19 is impacting your business and life, check out our article on how the economy is impacted in these months HERE.
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