What is Contact Tracing? It’s the process of identifying people, who may have come in contact with an infected person. Identifying these people, will help to test them, send them to quarantine, thereby stopping the spread of CoronaVirus. The traditional Contact Tracing techniques are, labor intensive. Initially, 2200 contact tracing agents were recruited in the USA. But the estimated requirement is, 300,000 contact tracers for it to be effective. Another important factor is, the effectiveness of traditional contact tracing, depends greatly on the patient’s memory. How much, he/she can recollect about his activities and contacts, during the past couple of weeks. Letting technology do this challenging detective work, is a game changer in combating Covid-19.
[You might have already heard about apps like Arogya Setu in India and Al Hosn in UAE. These are examples of existing contact tracing apps by governments. There are many third party apps as well. But make sure to install only the apps that your government suggests. This way, you can make sure that your private data doesn’t end up with random people. Your data is safer with your own governments rather than some unknown companies. Now there are some very exciting alternatives without compromising any of your data. Keep watching to learn more about it.]
First, lets see, how these contact tracing apps work. Might sound a bit technical. Don’t worry, I will make it, as simple as possible. The most recent contact tracing technology makes use of Bluetooth. Today’s smartphones are all Bluetooth enabled. It has a Bluetooth transmitter and receiver. Each Bluetooth device has a unique address. Cellphones, constantly transmit this address, advertising its presence within the range. Every nearby cellphones receive this address. This is how Bluetooth devices discover each other. And whenever we want to communicate, with a particular device, we explicitly pair them. So these paired devices, save each other’s addresses and can transfer pictures, files or any sort of data.
[Later when these devices go far apart and come back together, they remember each other and connect automatically. So you don’t have to pair them each time you want to send files. Briefly, what you have to remember is, even though every smartphone broadcasts their presence to each other, they remember only the ones that we want them to. So you have got a basic idea about how Bluetooth works.]
This is where, our story starts. What if every smart phone, starts to remember each other it comes across? This is how contact tracing apps work. And from a Bluetooth signal’s intensity and duration, a Phone understands, how close and for how long someone was. These information including the time, are saved onto your phone. If GPS is enabled, location is also saved.
[Next when someone gets tested positive for Covid-19. They will mention it in the app. Then each and every person who has been recently in their proximity, will be alerted about a possible Covid-19 exposure. From then onwards, the local government, might advise to get tested for Covid or stay in quarantine. The authorities can in real-time keep in track of possible hot spots and introduce regulations in those areas to reduce community spread.]
The most recent and exciting advancement in this area is, Google and Apple has teamed up to introduce, Contact Tracing to, ios and android phones, even without installing a separate app. This functionality is also released as Exposure Notification API, which can be used by app developers to build Contact tracing apps. Google’s, and Apple’s solution, seems to be the most privacy respecting choice. Remember the unique Bluetooth address for each phone. In Google’s and Apple’s implementation, each device, will be assigned a new code, every 15 minutes. This is to ensure anonymity. When a person is diagnosed with Covid-19, all the codes sent out from his phone is uploaded to a public database. Other phones can do a daily scan of the public database and see if, they have come across this, anonymous infected person. This way, the list of devices you have come across, doesn’t leave your phone.
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