Digital Contact Tracing - Privacy and Practical Challenges

Tech companies are given a task to use technology in order to revive life back to normal. This writing enlightens the digital contact tracing and challenges coming ahead.

How? The answer is simple - Digital Contact Tracing. 

Specialists as of now state states need to hold up until coronavirus cases really begin to decay more than half a month prior to they start reviving organizations and sending individuals school year kickoff and work. It would help, too, if there were accurate antibody tests that would show if somebody has already been infected and is now immune.

Digital Contact Tracing is vital because it will track those individuals who are tested positive for COVID-19 and recommending them to quarantine themselves for the incubation period. Recently, Google and Apple have collaborated for this global cause. 

If lockdowns are a sledgehammer to clamp down on new clusters, contact tracing would be the more preferable scalpel.

This diagram from Google helpfully explains how this would work in practice:


Modus Operandi of Contact Tracing: 
For instance, if you spend 10 minutes in close contact with your friend or neighbor or your family member, the mobile phones having applications will exchange the information. If any of you later gets COVID-19 Positive - they will enter this information to Public Health Authority's App. Next time if your phone comes in closer contact with the same phone/person tested positive with COVID-19, the user receives an alert saying that they have come in closer contact with an infected person and would recommend him to self-isolate himself.

Check this illustration by Nicky Case's Blog:


There are, of course, some privacy and practical challenges in contact tracing. For that,  Center for American Progress one of the leading left-leaning think tanks in Washington, DC, is releasing a list of recommendations for states to utilize digital contact tracing, which is shared exclusively with Vox.  

Guidelines to States for Privacy Protections:

  1. States should accept a decentralized approach. Data can be stored locally on people’s phones, and any government storing of information should be anonymized. Given the steps, Apple and Google have already taken, with their enormous market share, states that follow their standards should be able to build an app that can reach nearly 100 percent of smartphone users anyway.
  2. Any digital contact tracing system should be voluntary. Earned trust is more valuable than compulsion, especially given the legitimate concerns Americans will have about government surveillance. For these systems to be effective, upward of 60 percent of people with smartphones would need to opt-in.
  3. To encourage trust, states should put in place limits on how long data will be stored, both locally and in anonymized state databases. If Bluetooth is sufficient to contact trace, there is also no need to collect GPS or wifi information that more precisely tracks people’s movements.
  4. States should establish legally binding guidelines about what information will be collected and how it will be used. Specifically, local and federal law enforcement agencies should be barred from accessing this information.
  5. Transparency — achieved by putting app software in the public domain or operating under an open-source license — is essential. That will make it easier to build apps faster and coordinate across states too. Public health agencies must also contract with conscientious companies in developing or administering any software for contact tracing.
  6. Work with patients and public health workers in developing the software and processes for deploying and acting on it. It sounds obvious, but any digital contact tracing will be better served if it’s produced with input from the people who will actually use it.
  7. States should set up independent advisory boards focused on privacy and civil rights; those panels should be empowered to hold hearings and collect information, from documents and witnesses, to provide this oversight.
  8. Ideally, there would be regional collaboration and national standards for these digital tracing efforts — perhaps coordinated through an existing group like the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Words from Erin Simpson & Adam Conner:

“Digital contact tracing apps may allow all of us to better fight this virus and return to more open ways of life. We come to the recommendation of distributed digital contact tracing reluctantly and only in the context of exploring the range of other recommendations. However, we find hope in the idea that new approaches make it possible to build this in a maximally privacy-protective way.”

State governments will have to actually commit to those principles for them to be effective.