Why contact tracing technology cannot live up to the hype

Why contact tracing technology cannot live up to the hype

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been clamoring for technology solutions to help mitigate the spread of the virus until a vaccine is out. Enthusiasm and investment in technology was probably the best move we could have made, but not all tech solutions are made equal. Contact tracing technology may not be as effective as we would have hoped.

The most obvious problem to begin with is that most software using contact tracing technology is not based on location technology at all, but on Bluetooth.

For people to get informed, the infected person will have to record info into the app, at which time, all those they came into contact with may have already gone on to infect others. In addition, current iteration of these apps only consider exposure as having lasted 15 minutes or more, which is much more than the time it takes to catch the virus.

What is meant to be an auxiliary support tool is being relied on by some for absolute protection. Some institutions like universities might be encouraged to open back up to full or near-full capacity under a false sense of safety provided by unproven technologies like contact tracing apps.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the very people in need of protecting the most – those above the age of 65 – were big phone users to begin with. Leaving aside the digital literacy rate of senior citizens, only around 50% of people over the age of 65 in the US hold smartphones. As stated in another article, contact tracing technology is only an added value if at least two-thirds of the population are using it. Current numbers, especially in countries where the apps are voluntary, haven’t even come close to such an adoption rate.

As it stands currently, the value of contact tracing technology is not an added value, and needs to be reevaluated so that R&D resources can be invested where they are most needed.