Contact Tracing Apps Saves Lives. If They Worry You, Keep Reading

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By Thomas B. Cross Executive Director Member Services, Pandemic Tech Alliance

Superspreaders or super spreading is means of mass transmission of viruses to large groups of people from individuals or groups such as church choirs, night clubs and places indoors. Our research focuses on indoors as outdoor transmission by many researchers is either incomplete or specialized. We believe outdoor transmission is very limited while indoor transmission is very serious and highly probable. CBS did a story which also reported some of the information from. In the story from CBS, one person infected 15 people at different events such as a dinner, funeral, birthday and other events, leading to 3 deaths.

Now for the solution that no one wants but everyone needs – contact tracing.  Let’s explore the issues which like the vaccine for the coronavirus is “under construction” and like to be so for many months to come.  Even with a vaccine many people we have spoken to who don’t take flu shots or pneumonia shots or other vaccines don’t believe a coronavirus will work. 

Meanwhile, in reality there are only four types of interpersonal communications:

  • 1-1
  • 1-X or one to many
  • X-1 or many to one or few
  • X-X or many to many

These permutations are astronomical over time. MIT did an extraordinary compilation of contact tracing apps including a real-time database (of 30 apps) to keep up with the rising number of contact tracing apps so far. 

Here’s the rub.  No one believes we have privacy anymore and this approach coming mainly from the government has caused mixed reactions among citizens.

Israel has tackled the problem fairly well however.

Here’s some reassuring verbiage from the Ministry of Health inIsrael, “Information about locations and times is cross-referenced within your device, and not on the cloud. Your locations are not sent to the Ministry of Health, unless you have authorized the Ministry of Health to receive this information for purposes of help in identifying people who have been exposed and who must enter home isolation as soon as possible.” 

In fairness to other apps, there is similar wording in all the contact tracing apps more like the unreadable TOY-terms of use in all your other apps. Now I don’t believe they don’t gather your locations nor will ever use AI or machine learning to analyze patterns of infection or any other undesirable activity on your part. 

In addition, there are other ways hackers can track you. MIT points out “DP-3T: This stands for decentralized privacy-preserving proximity tracing. It’s an open-source protocol for Bluetooth-based tracking in which an individual phone’s contact logs are only stored locally so no central authority can know who has been exposed.”  Whether a central authority or hacker, you are not being protected by any one government or person.

Bottom-line – Superspreaders like cybersecurity hackers are more widespread than any government’s ability to limit their impact. 

The only way we see overcoming the challenge of trusting a single source to handle all contact tracing information in a country, is to utilize different apps for different groups.

While the majority of the population needs to use a contract tracing app for it to work properly, in few trust the app, then few will use it.

We expect there to be a proliferation of these applications and perhaps they will share information across apps if allowed by the user.

Then again, it is unclear if people will trust such a feature.

The idea is not so far-fetched… Many of us have numerous social apps as well… Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, etc.

Contact tracing will only work if people believe they are receiving added protection while limiting their privacy exposure.  This is serious so take personal responsibility for protecting your loved ones and others.