Americans Distrust Contact Tracing Apps, Survey Finds

A lot of confusion and disbelief is stalling digital contact tracing efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new survey shows that less than 50% of the American respondents support contact tracing apps. This indicates a lack of trust in deploying the technology and could even hinder its effectiveness.

How digital contact tracing apps work

Several contact tracing apps always try to collect some data about a smartphone user’s encounters with other people. Thereafter the app will notify the users if they are potentially coming into contact with a COVID-19 patient. However, each app works differently from the other in terms of privacy. For example, some apps collect data based on GPS, while others record close encounters with other smartphones based on Bluetooth radio-wave transmission.

Due to the difference in how the apps work, several misunderstandings have been seen in people’s opinions. The misconceptions have made it complex in assessing the public opinion of specific digital contact tracing apps. Furthermore, many more contact tracing apps are mushrooming, making the Americans hesitant to download and use them as some are not effective.

Confusion about the digital contact tracing efforts

The digital contact tracing technologies are almost similar to the traditional contact tracing, but their working is different. Traditional contact tracing is a verified-and-accurate public health measure that requires calling and interviewing large human contact tracers on a suspected or a confirmed contact with a COVID-19 patient. It also involves asking their travel history and warning family and friends who may have been exposed.

Since manual contact tracing is cumbersome and time-consuming, so most governments resort to digital contact tracing to automate the process. However, these apps work primarily by alerting the smartphone owner rather than contact tracing departments or public health officials.

The GPS based app will notify the user about their possible exposure to COVID-19 at a particular location. In contrast, the Bluetooth app will inform the user that they were exposed to someone with COVID-19 for a certain period. The difference between these two apps may make digital contact tracing more complicated and confusing.

Americans’ views about GPS-based apps and Bluetooth-based apps

From a public health viewpoint, a GPS based system is regarded as the best digital contact tracing method. However, the GPS health system may be intrusive as it may reveal the lifestyle and behavioral pattern of someone’s daily life as compared to the Bluetooth based app. From the surveys, most Americans did not view the two apps differently, whether incorporating GPS or Bluetooth. Their concerns were whether the app featured the centralized or decentralized system of data storage.

However, most of them changed their mind when it came to whether the app featured a centralized system or a decentralized system of data storage. Most people were willing to use the decentralized system as it was not sharing their personal and crucial information. For the Americans to gain trust in these apps, they need public education to correct the misinformation surrounding these apps. One wonders what suggestions entities like Genprex Inc. (NASDAQ: GNPX) have for building confidence in the technological tools being used to contain the spread of the virus.

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