Contact Tracing

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It’s time to build against pandemics

Rish Joshi
Contributor

Rish is an entrepreneur and investor. Previously, he was a VC at Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI fund), co-founded a fintech startup building an analytics platform for SEC filings and worked on deep-learning research as a graduate student in computer science at MIT.

We’re a few years out from the call to action Bill Gates made in his TED Talk on preparing for pandemics back in 2015, yet the state of scalable software for important workflows like data collection and contact-tracing has greatly lagged expectations during the current pandemic.

The Trump administration’s letter to health agencies regarding data-sharing guidelines asked for daily Excel uploads, and manual contact-tracing efforts without software have proven difficult given the scale of the current pandemic. 

Everything is being built right now. 

Research universities are helping build models used by the CDC for case prediction, and that’s brought to light the dire issues around incomplete data sharing between health institutions and governments. 

Dozens of contact-tracing apps are springing up, surfacing design decisions around privacy, the need for newer technologies beyond Bluetooth for near-field communication and leading companies like Google and Apple to strike partnerships to power cross-platform mobile capabilities.

The good news is that the current efforts are taking seriously the need for better software and driving necessary innovation to help society better prepare for pandemics.

How can detailed case data be shared by hospitals with governments to better predict case and mortality numbers, and used to better allocate medical and labor resources? 

How can software help local and state governments make better policies, and help digitize contact tracing while appeasing privacy concerns?

Software has the ability to power many of these capabilities, and it is creating new opportunities for startups to vet the newly formed appetite for better data and digitized workflows on the part of health agencies, local and state governments and other organizations involved in fighting pandemics.

Contact-tracing app caught sharing location data with Foursquare

Contact-tracing app caught sharing location data with Foursquare

Contact-tracing apps are problematic, and that’s before they violate their own privacy policies. 

The Care19 app, developed for the North Dakota Department of Health by developer ProudCrowd, was intended to assist health officials in their battle against coronavirus by logging users’ location data. In the process, according to a report released Thursday, it also sent users’ location data to Foursquare.

The findings, published by the makers of the privacy-focused app Jumbo, highlight the risks inherent in contact-tracing apps. When you have software designed to log your location, or your interactions with other people, and then share that data, you run the risk of said data ending up in unintended hands.  Read more…

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