Are COVID-19 Tracing Technologies Set for Everyone?

Published May 6th, 2020 - 03:00 GMT
Are COVID-19 Tracing Technologies Set for Everyone?
Google and Apple stressed that the new system will not enable govt to monitor citizens online. (Twitter: NewsB360)

As efforts continue to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, hoping to set the world to a fresh start after weeks of lockdowns and economic meltdown, tech companies are racing time to present the most innovative solutions to trace and prevent the pandemic.

Last week, tech moguls Apple and Google announced plans to equip Android and iOS operating systems with a Bluetooth-based contact tracing technology, to help identify new COVID-19 cases and prevent the virus from further spreading.

According to health experts, the virus can be effectively controlled without the need for massive closures, but only if proper measures to trace the disease and test potential patients are available. 

Looking at the South Korean experience, where fast and effective procedures were put in place. They were successfully able to curb new cases to less than 10 a day without shutting the country down.

The two companies, who have been working together on this project so the vast majority of the world's cell phones receive this technology, explained that the new system will notify users when a person they have been in direct contact with tests positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Moreover, public health authorities around the world will be granted access to information shared via the new system, Reuters reported.

Developers of the new system have also responded to privacy concerns by people, who expressed worry over the possibility of governments misusing the information collected, through the new technology to track citizens and implement surveillance policies targeting political rivals.

Unlike other applications that were developed by several countries, most notably the US,  the new systems will be functioning using Bluetooth signals and not GPS services. Every phone will be able to acquire data from nearby devices, so once a user of a device is diagnosed with COVID-19, alerts are sent to devices of recent contact.

Yet, the new service which is expected to be launched next month, might not be used as hoped for in developing communities, considering the significantly low numbers of people using Bluetooth -equipped phones compared to users in Europe or North America, which might hinder tracing efforts.

The 2020 Digital Trends report notes that 14% of mobile phone owners in Egypt have not yet been able to use smartphones that can run the iOS and Android new system. In Iraq, only 48% of the population can afford to own mobile phones that are connected to the internet. In Syria, the number doesn't surpass 47% of the population.

These examples do point at the difficulty of depending on high-tech applications to contain the novel coronavirus in disadvantaged communities in the Middle East and elsewhere, which means that health authorities should put an extra effort into tracing the coronavirus manually before completely relying on their data.

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