Note: This thread is related to #Coronavirus #COVID19

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Derek Thompson+ Your Authors @DKThomp Writer at @TheAtlantic. Host of podcast CRAZY/GENIUS. Author of book HIT MAKERS. Talker on NPR's @hereandnow and @CBSNews. derek[at]theatlantic[dot]com Apr. 07, 2020 2 min read + Your Authors

I wrote about “test and trace" and the plan to return to normal before a vaccine.

Most people understand what testing means. So, what is tracing? 

Before effective antivirals or a vaccine are widely available, we’re gonna have to play a sophisticated game of Whack-a-Mole.

1. Test as many ppl as we can.
2. Trace their recent contacts to see who they might have infected.

Surround the virus. Starve it of new bodies.

Historically, tracing relied on interviews.

To stop Ebola, e.g., CDC asked newly infected people to list recent interactions. That interview produced a list of contacts, who'd be monitored for illness for several weeks.

Some US states are already planning to do this for COVID.

Most people doubt that tracing interviews will be sufficient in the case of COVID (too slow, too inaccurate). The solution? Use one of several cell-phone technologies:

- cell phone tower data
- Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth

One illustrative example:

Say I test positive for COVID. I'll use an app to upload my phone activity to an agency, that either publishes my anonymous "location trail" to local app users (Waze for COVID) or directly contacts ppl who received local Bluetooth pings from my phone.

In South Korea, the govt uses phone data, CCTV, and credit card records.

When somebody tests positive, the govt sends an alert that includes the person's last name, sex, age, district of residence, credit-card history, location trails, and more.

Very effective. Very invasive.

In Singapore, residents can download an app that uses Bluetooth technology to keep a log of nearby devices.

If somebody gets sick, that user can upload relevant data to the Ministry of Health, which notifies the owners of all the devices pinged by the infected person’s phone.

I see several tensions here:

1) There could be a tension between invasive tracing and effective testing in the west:

If tracing is seen as too aggressive, fewer people will want to get tested bc they'll be afraid of positive tests resulting in a massive loss of privacy.

2) There's a tension between knowing too little and too much:

Right now, what we don’t know—who is infected, where they’ve been—is killing us. Test and trace offers a road out of ignorance, but Americans need to trust that road won’t lead to an indefinite govt surveillance.

The researchers I spoke to—in Germany, and at MIT—were aware of, and eager to solve, both of these tensions.

MIT is looking to build anonymized location trails, whereas Germany is focused more on Bluetooth data, which gives proximity but not location. Tradeoffs both ways

Tracing will force a lot of Americans to reexamine the value of privacy in the context of a pandemic.

Some ppl will be horrified of "Waze but for sick ppl." Others will say quarantine is not freedom and privacy must be balanced with other human rights. 

You can follow @DKThomp.


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