With the prevalence of COVID-19, we need ways to handle the spread of this new virus. There have been debates about the issue of privacy in regards to using automated contact tracing apps. If societies are to open up to it with minimal inconvenience, these apps can serve as a kind of solution, but this is possible if we can strike the right balance when it comes to privacy.
The digital remedy for contact tracing
Up to now, we are yet to establish how effective these apps can be. Case in point in societies that do not have an existing surveillance structure. In particular, let’s look at the case of Iceland. According to a report from MIT Technology Review, our hope is on digital solutions. In the number of apps worldwide, Iceland’s app has the highest penetration rate, but despite this, it has not helped much to address COVID-19.
Rakning C-19 is a tracking app that launching early April in Iceland backed by the government. A month later, the first COVID-19 case is in the country. Before the app’s inception, the government had formed a team to do contact tracing by interviewing the patients. Additionally, they were to track any of the contacts they had. On the other hand, the app is voluntary and requires permission to release its data and track GPS to help the Tracing team.
The government has been at the forefront, encouraging people to download the Rakning app. Technology Reviews project states that it has the highest download contact tracer app in the world. A total of 38% of Iceland’s population are using it. These statistics show that the app is a great success.
Impact of the App
Regardless of the app’s success on paper, the authorities say the app’s impact has been small. This is in comparison with the manual methods of contact tracing, such as calling people. The technology is not futile, but it’s more useful when both technology and manual contact are integrated. Iceland has succeeded in managing COVID-19, but this is because of other factors.
As for Iceland’s case, Singapore has also shown concerns in relying on the contact tracing app being the only way to deal with COVID-19. No contact tracing app can replace manual tracing. At the end of the day tracing should remain a process fronted by humans.
What other contact tracing models are in use?
Looking at China’s model for contact tracing, their automated system is a more successful story. But unlike Singapore, their participation is not voluntary, and there is also the case of lack of transparency. Another reason contact tracing apps work better in China is their pre-existing extensive surveillance network.
Despite the tides we have made in technology, automation might give us hope and security that contact tracing apps are the solution. But we need to look at the limitations and what implications technology through contact tracing apps has on dealing with COVID-19. Entirely relying on contact tracing apps sometimes does not report on barriers that separate contacts or if the contacts are using protective equipment like masks. And with this, it cannot alert individuals that might infect or transmit to others, unlike manual human contact, which reports on such.
Contact tracing apps have made strides, but we cannot completely rely on these apps as the cure-all for dealing with COVID-19. They need to use in collaboration with human manual contact tracing to tackle the issue of COVID-19 effectively. Technology can help in keeping you safe, but it cannot do it exclusively.