Apple and Google recently announced the initial rollout of the joint effort Exposure Notification API. The API, which enables cross-platform contact tracing functionality, has been greeted with varying degrees of acceptance. Some municipalities, including my home state of Washington, are jumping headfirst into incorporating the functionality. Others, not so much.
The most recent municipality to forego the inclusion of the Exposure Notification API is Utah. The state still plans on implementing a contact tracing application, however, their effort, which is named Healthy Together, will not utilize the Exposure Notification API and is being developed by social media startup Twenty. Healthy Together seems like a completely innocuous application at first glance and in many ways it is. Users take a daily symptom analysis test and when necessary are directed to the closest testing location if the application determines the user could have contracted SARS-CoV-2. However, some believe that the amount of information the application requires to achieve this is unnecessary.
The Healthy Together application uses GPS location data and Bluetooth in order to not only provide information on nearby testing locations but also to help identify individuals that may have come into contact with the user who is suspected of having COVID-19. The Utah State website explains this need for this data by stating that “Bluetooth on its own gives a less accurate picture than Bluetooth and GPS location data. The goal of Healthy Together is to allow public health officials to understand how the disease spreads through the vector of people and places, and both location and Bluetooth data are needed to accomplish that.”
At face value this argument makes sense, but it is also true that to get an accurate image of the spread of the disease you need a high percentage of community buy-in. It is yet to be seen what percentage of Utah’s population will be willing to provide this level of location data, however placing your bets on more-data-is-better could end up being an unnecessary gamble as people begin to tire of government intervention in their lives.