Contact tracing explained: How apps can slow the coronavirus
Your phone can be a tool to help fight this Coronavirus pandemic nightmare.
At least that's what some tech companies are hoping.
Bluetooth technology can keep track of who's been exposed to COVID-19.
But can a little radio Bluetooth ping from your phone really get us back to some resemblance of a normal life.
Let's break it down.
So everything I'm talking about here is a high-tech version of a low tech classic pandemic fighting tool called contact tracing.
If someone's infected with COVID-19, a public health official will wants to get in touch with everyone that person may have been in contact with over the past two weeks.
That way you can test them, warn them, make sure they don't affect others.
The issue is that this Coronavirus is highly contagious it's easy to spread it and you could be sick for two weeks and not even know it.
Plus, do you really remember every single person you came in contact with over the past two weeks?
Who are you next to at the grocery store?
Or what about the bus stop?
And how about that taxi driver?
Yeah, that's where the phone can be useful.
Digital contact tracing has the phone send out Bluetooth radio pings constantly, keeping a record of all the other phones that also have the service turned on that were near you in the past two weeks.
So all those random people you may have interacted with but you don't know who they are to even warn them.
Well, they can get a warning.
If the time comes that you get sick they can get alerted that they may have been near sick person.
While the system never tells them who the sick person was.
Apple and Google are working on ways for this to work seamlessly across iPhones and Android phones.
They even came up with a little graphic to help explain it.
Alice and Bob meet and talk Talk for ten minutes their phones are exchanging little anonymous pings.
And phones keep a record of it on the device.
No, Bob is sick.
He tests positive for COVID-19.
He downloads an app from a public health authority.
And the app requires a doctor to indicate that he indeed has tested positive for COVID-19 with Bob's permission because this is all in Bob's power.
He sends a warning to any phone he came in contact with over the past 14 days.
Meanwhile, Alice is just chillin at home days later when she sees the phone alert.
Someone she was near recently has tested positive for COVID-19.
It doesn't say it was Bob, but maybe she's not wondering who she hung out with recently, and now Alice gets advice on what to do next.
Maybe that's to get tested or to isolate from others.
Hopefully Alice can test to see if she really is sick and can avoid hanging out with other people in the meantime.
So while this sounds really good, this is all new territory.
And there are a lot of things that have to happen for this to actually make a difference.
First off, you need to have people trusted to even use it because it's all voluntary it is opt in.
And so tech companies are coming out with promises that it will be completely private.
No idea is tied to you know, GPS location is recorded, because you have to feel safe and secure with it to even want to To use it, but let's go back to Alice and Bob for a second.
If Alice was in isolation for weeks and the only person she hung out with was Bob and then she gets that alert, yeah, she knows Bob's the one that got sick.
But hopefully Bob would have been a good enough friend and told her regardless.
The second big challenge is getting people to download the technology into their phones.
These are public health apps that people have to seek out and download.
The technology is being woven into future operating system updates for iOS and Android.
But still, people need to make sure that they have the latest updates.
Apple and Google are working on getting this to as many phones as possible.
But it's not good enough just to have the app on your phone.
People need to be using it actively, for this to really be effective.
experts are saying you need to have at least Least half the population using it.
And it also means both Alice and Bob need to have opted in to having their phones ping all day long.
So you have to assume they didn't turn Bluetooth off to save battery when they went to the store.
And when a person does get sick They have to voluntarily report that they are sick participation is required.
Now to prevent abuse and trolls they're going to make these apps require that a doctor or public health official is the one who checks that little box that says yes, this person did indeed test positive for COVID-19.
But even then, The person who owns the app has to still take the step to share that information.
There's a lot of steps here.
And then there's the issue of how well all of this will work when Bluetooth can have its wonky moments, but you find to see that they were near each other.
How long do you have to be next to each other?
And exactly what is that distance?
The idea being floated around is that two phones will need to be close to each other for a period of, say ten minutes.
Right now devices can tell if people are near or far depending if that connection signal is strong or weak.
Of course, you don't need to be hanging out with someone for five or ten minutes to get sick.
It could be a quick event.
If two people aren't careful, and what if you were next to someone but the system assumed you were farther away?
Because the Bluetooth signal was weak, maybe it was obscured by something.
So don't expect us to be perfect in every aspect or accurate in every instance.
But you know what humans aren't exactly perfect either.
Research by the University of Oxford found that humans take 72 hours to do this manually.
Compare that to phone app which notifies everyone right away.
So people do use the app and trust all of those privacy protections put in place and this really could be something to help us slow down the spread of the virus and end this madness.
There's just a lot of challenges in getting there time will tell.
So what do you think?
Would you use an app like this?
What are your concerns?
Let me know in the comments.
Stay safe out there guys.