Contact Tracing: What If People Don’t Own Smart Phones?
From The Case for a Mandatory COVID-19 App (internal links omitted):
Recently, an Oxford team published a paper in Science which found that the spread of COVID-19 was “too fast to be contained by manual contact tracing but could be controlled if this process was faster, more efficient and happened at scale.” The authors therefore make the case for a contact tracing app. Its main feature would be to store data on proximity contacts and sound an alarm if a contact has been tagged as testing positive. The authors argue such an app can “achieve epidemic control if used by enough people,” and that 60 percent take-up would be enough. That may be, but 100 percent would obviously be better.
Their app design uses GPS and QR codes in places where GPS would be ineffective (such as underground train stations). Other proposed app designs rely on a Bluetooth “handshake” (automatic connection between devices which have Bluetooth detection enabled) rather than location data. In essence, a GPS and QR based solution works by tracking location. If two people are at the same location and one of them has tested positive for COVID-19, the app carried by the other can receive an alert based on a search of location history. With a Bluetooth solution, the app does not record where you are, it merely says one phone was within Bluetooth range of another. So, if a Bluetooth device finds itself in close proximity to a phone belonging to an infected person, an alert can be sent to the user who may have been exposed to them. The app does not need to identify the infected party, it need only say: “You have been close to someone who has tested for COVID-19. Call this number.”
I have the usual — reasonable and unreasonable — reservations about this type of thing. Some are reasonable, some irrational. Some are ideological, some practical.
One of the more practical reservations is, not all of us have smart phones. I suppose dumb phones can be similarly tracked. Later in the article the author mentions that the state can track phones without apps, albeit not as efficiently.
At any rate, the “mandatory app” approach to contact tracing relies on most (almost all) people having that technology. It’s an expensive piece of technology, too. I’m sure there are cheaper options, but I understand the monthly payments can be up to $100 per month. I suppose we could require people to buy one, maybe subsidize it for those who can’t pay. That wouldn’t be too different from requiring people to purchase health insurance, a policy I have supported and continue to support.