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Weekly Current Affairs: April week-3 - The contact tracing technology

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    22nd Apr, 2020

Global technology giants Apple and Google have announced that they are partnering on developing contact tracing technology to help governments and health authorities tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Context

Global technology giants Apple and Google have announced that they are partnering on developing contact tracing technology to help governments and health authorities tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic.

About

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) defines contact tracing as the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission.
  • Via contact tracing, people who have come into contact with a person carrying a disease are alerted and identified.
  • In its 2015 guidelines for contact tracing during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the WHO underlined the importance of the practice:

“Identifying people at the onset of symptoms and promptly isolating them reduces exposure to other persons, preventing subsequent EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) infections. Additionally, prompt isolation and admission of the symptomatic person to a treatment facility decreases the delay to supportive treatment, which improves the likelihood of survival.”

How will the coronavirus new technology?

  • The new contact tracing technology will use Bluetooth signals to track if users have been in contact with anyone exposed to coronavirus.
  • By May, both companies (Google and Apple) will release application programming interfaces (APIs) that would enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities.
  • The official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores, as per the press release.
  • When this step is realised, phone-based matching via official apps will help alert people if they have come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • For this to work, COVID-19 patients would have to declare their status to the respective apps voluntarily.
  • Following this, all people whose Android/iOS smartphones were detected nearby such patients, would get notified.
  • This means, you will be notified even if you were around a stranger who has tested positive for the disease.

The privacy issue:

  • The planned technology also throws the weight of the tech leaders into a global conflict between privacy advocates who favor a decentralized system to trace contacts and governments in Europe and Asia pushing centralized approaches that have technical weaknesses and potentially let governments know with whom people associate.
  • To be effective, the Silicon Valley system would require millions of people to opt in the system, trusting the technology companies’ safeguards, as well as smooth oversight by public health systems.

Significance of the technology:

  • Contact tracing is considered essential for bringing epidemics under control, and is expected to help governments in relaxing lockdown orders.
  • The technology will help to slow the spread of the coronavirus by allowing users to opt into logging other phones they have been near.
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