Contact Tracing: How will this affect the future?

Contact Tracing: How will this affect the future?

Jaclyn Krizanic

June 3, 2020

Imagine that someone not only knew all the media you consumed and your general location, but also every person you’ve ever touched. As people try to re-open their businesses and live their lives again, the presence of contact tracing will start to take over and invade society. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the future holds a different approach on how resources and tools will be used in order to trace those who have come in contact with it and help prevent it from spreading. Contact tracing is explained by the CDC in different key factors, including the ability to trace and monitor the contacts of infected people. There is a procedure to notify people if they have been exposed to a threatening illness, infection or virus. When we think of the ways that will make this tracing possible, the main tools include our own mobile devices.

Everywhere people go they seem to always be accompanied by their phone. According to BBC News, there is now an app launched for the purpose of contact tracing. This is the first ever app launched by Google and Apple. This app started with the developing teams in Switzerland in regards to the coronavirus outbreak. When diving deeper into the app, the logistics to how this app will function is quite intricate.

After people have downloaded the app and they have come in contact with each other, their phones will exchange a key code. If one of these people become infected with COVID-19 they would then update their statues in the app and share this information. However, fear seems to trickle in because new anxieties can arise from this: What happens when you forget to update your status? Will this be automatically linked to someone’s medical records? If so, will there be the possibilities for hackers to steal and trace your information through this app?

Next, the information on the status change will be shared with the key code that has been shared with people who have been in contact with the subject who is now infected. An alert will be sent and inform them of the status and show they have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Diagram of how the app collects data.
This diagram is shared on the BBC News website from the article: Coronavirus: First Google/Apple-based contact-tracing app launched by Leo Kelion. This image explains the way it will transmit data between different people from the app.

In the BBC article “A spokeswoman told BBC that Apple had already approved the software to appear on its App Store, but the developers were still waiting for permission to list it on the Google Play marketplace”. They are expecting this new app to drop as soon as Thursday, May 28th, 2020. Yet, would the public feel comfortable with this kind of setup?

Does this app seem safe? It will have direct access to everywhere you go. Going on walks, to the store, or even on a vacation or family gathering will be tracked and it will be able to pinpoint your exact location. BBC News states “Of course we would be very happy to be the first [national launch], but the most important thing is to help our inhabitants fight the virus.” However, this would bring another thing that the public will be losing rather than gaining: their privacy.

The launch of the app has not had public mentions of safety regulations or any regulations as to how the app will track you. You may need to allow a full 24/7 tracking in order to download this and for it to work properly. Yet sleeping, eating and spending time with others will all be documented and strictly noted in the app’s cloud database.

This raises a few questions for me. Where would all this data go? After this app has had the access to be downloaded onto your mobile device, will the data of one’s location be stored forever? Who would have control over this information and if this app was hacked? Would it become a safety violation that would need regulations? These questions do not yet have solid answers.

However, the use of this app in other countries seems to have been beneficial. For example, using cell phone technology has helped locate over 4,000 cases of COVID-19. Yet, this app could change the way that we interact with one another. Going out to eat or even to the store raises sensations of fear and anxiety in some of the population now due to this outbreak of the virus. Will this vanish those anxieties or will the use of these new forms of apps and technology only create new ones?

Jaclyn Krizanic is a junior studying Professional Writing and minoring in Graphic Design. Jaclyn plans to apply her knowledge and skill sets she has gained from her major into her current, future and professional work. Jaclyn loves to write poetry and inspires to publish a book of poems and short stories upon her graduation.