People Count, book review: Technology, data, privacy and contact-tracing apps

Maria J. Danford


People today Count: Speak to-Tracing Applications and General public Well being • By Susan Landau • MIT Press • one hundred sixty five webpages • ISBN: 978–262-04571-one • $24.95

Back again in March 2020, when make contact with-tracing applications were being initial currently being frantically created, they seemed to me like a mirage — a fantasy embraced by the smartphone-toting, jet-location class who desired to feel that technological know-how could enable them ignore the pandemic. 

Prejudice does not make for good science, on the other hand, and in a pandemic good science is what we want. Now, a yr and a 50 % afterwards, in People today Count: Speak to Tracing Applications and General public Well being, Tufts College professor Susan Landau has established out to make a sober evaluation. 

You have to feel for her below, for the reason that crafting a ebook about these types of a quick-transferring subject matter is really a lot like hoping to nail flan to the ceiling. Landau concluded her ebook in the autumn of 2020. At that position, numerous nations around the world were being also locked down for make contact with-tracing applications to subject a lot now, everyone’s targeted on vaccinations.  

She starts with a normal heritage of make contact with tracing, moves on to technological know-how-increased make contact with tracing, the conflict involving make contact with tracing and privacy, and an evaluation of irrespective of whether make contact with-tracing applications have been powerful, and closes with a brief discussion of the upcoming. 

The major conflict in spring 2020 was irrespective of whether make contact with-tracing applications really should be centralised or decentralised — that is, irrespective of whether they really should accumulate user knowledge into a giant, government-managed database or hold knowledge domestically on each user’s cell phone, to be shared only with that user’s arrangement adhering to a optimistic test.

Landau follows this heritage and the in close proximity to-common adoption of the GAEN (Google-Apple Publicity Notification) decentralised platform now used by almost every app. Landau discusses the European hard work (which incorporated UCL in the United kingdom), which formulated privacy-defending open-source protocols whose rules were being very similar to GAEN’s eventual style and design. On the other hand, she leaves out 2011’s FluPhone undertaking, led by Jon Crowcroft and Eiko Yoneki at Cambridge, which proven that working with mobile phones could present true-time measures of social action and assistance identify superspreaders via the bacterial infections showing up all over them.

Have faith in and local context

Landau concludes that whilst make contact with-tracing applications can evidently lead to lowering the Basic Reproduction Number by uncovering cases that, with out assistance, people today cannot, the exact same is legitimate of human make contact with tracing. As an instance, she cites the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, which skipped assessments in favour of wanting for symptoms these types of as lower oxygen saturation. The final result, in spite of numerous bacterial infections, was a death rate lessen than that of the encompassing point out.  

Have faith in and an understanding of the local context are key, as is guaranteeing that the general public wellbeing infrastructure performs for individuals most in want. A better approach than GAEN, she argues, is to make applications that assistance agreement tracers she names the NHS app that collects QR code check-ins as an instance. 

Now, as issues may perhaps be opening up, is the time when make contact with-tracing applications could possibly have extra of a job to play. We really should, Landau concludes, have the general public debate about how and when these applications really should be used that we failed to have last yr. This pandemic will finish, but it will never be the last. We really should prepare now. 

Current AND Linked Articles

Speak to-tracing applications: Android phones were being leaking delicate knowledge, find scientists

Singapore passes invoice governing police use of make contact with tracing knowledge

Speak to-tracing app averted all over 600,000 COVID bacterial infections, states review

Google fixes API bug in COVID-19 make contact with-tracing applications around the globe

NSW states QR codes are the most powerful process for COVID-19 make contact with tracing

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