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Privacy in the Age of Digital Contact Tracing

Privacy in the Age of Digital Contact Tracing

Apple and Google are both working on innovative solutions to get things back up and running during the coronavirus pandemic. The tech giants recently announced they are collaborating on a way to track the spread of the disease using smartphone technology and a technique called contact tracing.

In the coming months, Apple and Google will roll out two solutions in the hopes of assisting healthcare professionals. The first of these solutions, launching in May, will help public health authorities make apps to track the spread of the disease on both Android and iOS devices. Then users can download these contact tracing apps from either the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

The second solution will use Bluetooth to alert users when they have been in close contact with a COVID-19-positive patient. This feature will be automatically included in the next smartphone updates, which are expected to be released in the coming months.

Both solutions aim to make contact tracing much simpler and quicker for public health authorities.

What is Contact Tracing? 

Contact tracing involves tracking where an ill patient has been, and who they came in contact with recently. Then, healthcare professionals can reach out to these recent contacts and advise them if they should get tested.

What is Contact Tracing
(Image Source: ScienceMag)

Depending on the nature and duration of the contact, healthcare professionals may advise these people to go to the nearest emergency room, to self-quarantine for a set number of days, or to simply watch out for certain symptoms.

With contact tracing, healthcare professionals will have a map that lets them know how the disease is spreading in a community. This map may also be useful to determine where treatments or vaccines should be deployed. Additionally, by telling people who have come in close contact with a COVID-19-positive patient to self-isolate or seek treatment, contact tracing helps to curb the virus from spreading.

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How Does Digital Contact Tracing Work?

These days, digital contact tracing uses smartphone applications and Bluetooth technology to track ill patients. Then you will get an alert on your phone if you were near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

In South Korea, for instance, a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 can download a smartphone app that keeps track of their location. By tracking their movements, healthcare workers are able to map out and contain the virus from spreading.

contact tracing app

However, with so much data being collected, some people are concerned that their privacy will be violated for the sake of contact tracing.

How to Protect Your Privacy Against Digital Contact Tracing

Apple and Google have expressed that “user privacy and security” are “central to the design” of their digital contact tracing plans. For one thing, this process is completely voluntary, so you can opt-out of digital contact tracing.

In fact, you will need to opt-in and download the contact tracing app before the government or healthcare agencies can use it to track you. This is also true with the operating-system-level solution that Apple and Google will roll out. You need to enable the contact tracing feature when you update your devices.

Google and apple
(Image Source: Apple)

If you do opt-in, Apple and Google said that your data will not be made public. Only the proper public health agencies will have access to information related to a COVID-19 patient. Private entities will not have access to your data.

Additionally, these public health agencies will only have your information for a limited amount of time. According to Apple and Google, there is an end date for any contact tracing feature that they will release. While they cannot say what that date will be yet, they did express that once it’s appropriate to pull out the functionality, they will do so.

If you want to keep track of the spread of COVID-19, check out our article on the best coronavirus apps here.

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