The role of contact tracing tech in curbing the pandemic

It has been almost a year since the Covid-19 pandemic jolted the world. The initial shock was over within a few weeks but with extended periods of lockdown, the popular morale was down. As the economy opened up gradually, the masses formed new habits and started to cope with the “New Normal”. However, despite several global researches in place, the world is yet to discover a cure or release a vaccine.

The pandemic is very much alive and so are the uncertainties but following the norm – “the show must go on”, governments, businesses and all types of organizations have reopened albeit with several stringent measures like thermal scanning of consumers’ and employees’ temperature, regular sanitization, etc.

To add an extra layer of protection for the individual citizens, many countries have deployed technology enabled contact tracing systems. India launched its contact tracing app Aarogya Setu way back in April, while Australia (COVIDSafe), Israel (HaMagen), Singapore (TraceTogether), are some of the other nations to use the same technology.

In mid-September, the second phase of Google and Apple’s exposure notification system was launched, reports Inc. The system uses smart phones’ Bluetooth technology to assist in contact tracing efforts. As a result, when a person comes within six feet of somebody who tested positive for Covid-19, his or her phone will get an alert notification without downloading any app.

The system is freely available for consumers with the latest versions of Android and iOS and is active in several countries, although it doesn’t work in India. The system assigns a random ID to every smart phone user, that is exchanged with other devices via Bluetooth. Devices that remain with the six-feet periphery for over 10 minutes exchange IDs. If one of the users tests positive, an alert about the potential exposure is sent out to all the users who were in contact.

However, the most significant limitation of the system is that it relies on device users to self-report the infection, and the sole way to do that is via the apps made by public health authority. Several countries and about ten states in US have such technology in place where “Apple-Google exposure notification system” works. The system thus fails to generate an alert if the user doesn’t report his infection status, which might create a false sense of security for the people who rely on the system.

Almost all contact tracing apps have similar drawbacks and their effectiveness have been largely questioned. Nevertheless, people around the world are encouraged to use this technology especially if they are venturing out as an employee or a consumer. The technology has achieved some degree of success, but data theft and cybersecurity hazard has been one of the most negative aspects of the contact tracing technology.

The “Apple-Google exposure notification system” too claims to have adequate safety measures in place. Similar claims have been made by India’s health ministry regarding the Aarogya Setu app. But once the user data reaches the cloud, true safety can seldom be guaranteed. And that is a primary reason behind people’s hesitation to use contact tracing technology.

So, in conclusion one can only say that contact tracing technology, although not flawless but extends some safety to users. Despite, the limitations, authorities are mandating use of this technology to curb the spread of the virus and it is working to a great extent, and companies would definitely benefit by encouraging employees and consumers to use the technology.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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