Tracing Covid-10 with Smartphone Data

July 17, 2020

Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) are working on an app that taps into smartphone location data to alert the user whether they’ve been close to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. OSU is working to make this technology available for use in the fall to help prevent the spread of coronavirus on campus.

The app works with location data already made available through updates to major cell phone manufacturers, such as Samsung and iPhone. Users can download an app that taps into location data on their phones. When the user tests positive for Covid-19, that information is used to notify others who have been in contact with the person.

 “Your status would change from green to red, which means that you should probably get yourself tested or take some measure to ensure that you don’t have COVID,” said Ness Shroff, Professor of computer science and engineering at OSU.

In order for an app like this to be helpful, 50 to 60 percent of the population would need to use it. 

 “You need a large amount of users to adopt this to make it really effective,” said Zhiqiang Lin, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Ohio State University.

The app is one of many across the country and the world being used to try to slow the spread of the pandemic. As of yet, there is no universal app in the U.S. being used for this purpose. Many have raised concerns about the information being gathered violates personal privacy. 

“From a technical perspective, it’s pretty safe, and it allows you to opt in for those things,” said Paul Sems, a cyber security expert with Trusted Sec. “The challenge comes when I want to give any information to anyone, and the majority of Americans are probably reluctant to do that.”