Tracking Software & COVID-19

With the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus, we have all become more aware of our contact with others. Millions of people across the globe are participating in safety measures, including wearing masks and gloves in public, frequent hand-washing, staying six feet away from others at all times, and limiting interactions to the bare minimum. But to what extent can you determine if you’ve come into contact with COVID-19?

Technology may be the answer to that vexed question. Smart devices are more than just for gaming, texting, and FaceTime. They could be instrumental in breaking the chain of infection and ensuring those who may test positive stay completely quarantined in this time of crisis.

Contact Tracing – How Does It Work?

Smartphones are more than just phones. They are also GPSs, data collectors, and Wi-Fi-connected devices. There are many ways that smartphone apps developers can use the phone’s capabilities to help launch more virus-fighting efforts.

Location data integrated with tracking software is at the core of contact tracing. By using each device’s location data, developers can help alert people when they have potentially come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

They can do this by looking at the past locations of COVID-19 patients and other users’ location data to see if anyone crossed paths with this infected person. Because of the nature of Bluetooth, developers can mine the data stored on smart devices. They can then curate a list of other phones that have been near them in the past. When someone gets a COVID-19 diagnosis, all of the phones on this list will receive alerts that the user should get tested and self-isolate.

The reason this effort is so crucial is that social distancing is different from self-isolating. Social distancing guidelines encourage people to stay at home unless they need to retrieve essential items, such as groceries. Self-isolating measures call upon infected individuals to quarantine themselves. Contact tracing also involves a belief in people’s general goodwill. Those who know they have COVID-19 are much more likely to stay home to avoid infecting others.

Letting people know that they could potentially be carrying the virus could help efforts of early diagnosis and containment. Contact tracing through tracking software can further these containment measures

How Is Smart Phone Contact Tracing Different?

Contact tracing has long been a part of disease containment protocol, but never as efficient as it could be now

The process previously involved interviewing those infected to determine their prior whereabouts. Then it involved sending out mass press releases regarding these locations. For example, if someone diagnosed with COVID-19 took a flight last week, the airport may release a statement to all recent fliers about the incident.

This process depended on a good memory, honesty from the infected parties, and the idea that anyone who was in said location would read the news or check their email. Using tracking software for contact tracing eliminates many of these pitfalls.

Google and Apple are currently in the process of developing tracing apps. Using software that works across smartphone apps and devices, the technology will be able to identify potential contamination and release information to involved parties.

Surveillance and Social Distancing Policing

Because of the Wi-Fi connectivity of most smart devices, location data obtained from phones can help to monitor large gatherings.

Developers can see on a map if a large group of people has assembled at the same location. With shelter-in-place orders in many major cities and states, these gatherings are a breach of security and the law.

Using tracking software can help to eliminate these gatherings and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

When Will This Process Begin?

Currently, surveillance systems are not in use globally, but many countries have begun trials. Among the countries using smart devices for tracking and containment are Singapore, Israel, India, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and more. The processes of implementation have only just begun in the UK and the US for these types of containment efforts.

The Ethics of Tracking Software

Since the advent of smart technology, there has been an ongoing debate about the ethics of data collection. In the past, marketing companies used data to create targeted ads and collect user data. This effort is much different, with data helping to contain a virus and save lives. However, the question still stands: Is it morally sound to track people without their explicit consent? If the app becomes available, will people even use it?

Many countries are already finding out what these tracking apps mean for their privacy and personal freedom, and others are still in the theoretical stages.

The Bottom Line

As the pressure mounts and coronavirus continues to spread, this software could be responsible for saving lives, containing the virus, and building a more hopeful future. Many countries will find out in the coming months if this type of tracking software is ethical, practical, and successful in ceasing the spread of contamination.