As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, technologists everywhere have been rushing to build apps, services, and systems for contact tracing: identifying and notifying all those who come in contact with a carrier. Some are lightweight and temporary, while others are pervasive and invasive: China’s system, for example, sucks up data including citizens’ identity, location, and even online payment history so that local police can watch for those who break quarantine rules.
Some services are being produced locally by small groups of coders, while others are vast, global operations. Apple and Google are mobilizing huge teams to build their upcoming systems that notify people of potential exposure, which could be used by hundreds of millions of people almost immediately.
Opinions differ on whether these apps are just a technocratic daydream or—if done correctly—a potentially useful supplement to manual tracing, in which human workers interview people who’ve been diagnosed with covid-19 and then track down their recent contacts. But the reality is that these services are already rolling out, and many more are likely to come in the next few months.
Despite the avalanche of services, however, we know very little about them or how they could affect society. How many people will download and use them, and how widely used do they have to be in order to succeed? What data will they collect, and who is it shared with? How will that information be used in the future? Are there policies in place to prevent abuse?
So to help monitor this fast-evolving situation, MTI is gathering the information into a single place for the first time with their Covid Tracing Tracker—a database to capture details of every significant automated contact tracing effort around the world.
So far the project has documented 25 individual, significant automated contact tracing efforts globally, including details on what they are, how they work, and what policies and processes have been put in place around them.
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