What the UK Coronavirus Alert Flood Means for Vulnerability Tracking Apps


“During the week of 8 July in England and Wales, more than 600,000 people were instructed to isolate COVID-19 using the NHS app,” she says, “but this is only slightly more than double the number of new positive cases in the same region. period. While we had concerns about justifying the contact tracing app, it is inappropriate to criticize it for ‘pingdemic’: the app is essentially working as usual. “

Christoph Fraser, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute who has done the most notable studies on the app’s effectiveness, says that while it functions as intended, there is another problem: a significant breakdown in the social contract. “People can watch raves and nightclubs on TV. Why am I told to stay at home? To be honest, this is a fair moment, ”he says.

It is the lack of clear and fair rules that leads to widespread frustration, he said, as people are told to isolate themselves. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, public health technologies are closely related to everything around them – how they are sold, how they are talked about in the media, how they are discussed by your doctor, how they are supported (or not) by legislators. …

“People really want to do the right thing,” says Fraser. “They need to be met halfway.”

How did we get here

Exposure notification apps are a digital public health tactic pioneered during the pandemic and have already withstood a lot of criticism from those who say they didn’t get enough use. Dozens of countries have created applications to alert users of a virus infection by sharing code and using a structure developed jointly by Google and Apple. But amid criticism of privacy concerns and technical glitches, detractors blamed the apps for launching too late during the pandemic – at a time when cases were too high for technology to reverse.

So, shouldn’t this moment in the UK – when technical glitches are eliminated, when popularity is high and the next wave of resurgence – be the right time for its application to really make a difference?

“Science is not such a big problem … the problem arises from behavior. The hardest parts of the system are the parts where you have to convince people to do something. “

Jenny Vanger, Public Health Linux Foundation

“Not unless people voluntarily follow isolation guidelines,” says Jenny Vanger, who leads the Linux Foundation Public Health’s technical covid initiatives.

Eighteen months after the start of the pandemic, “technology is usually not a problem,” she says. “Science is not such a big deal … at this point we know how the transmission of the virus works. The problem is behavior. The hardest parts of the system are the parts where you have to convince people to do something, based on best practices of course. “

Fraser from Oxford says he thinks about it in terms of incentives. For the average person, he says, the incentives to comply with contact tracing rules – digital or otherwise – don’t always add up.

If, as a result of using an app, “you are quarantined, but your neighbor who has not installed the app is not quarantined,” he says, “that doesn’t necessarily look fair, right?”

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