COVID-19 has devastated worldwide economies with no end in sight. Naturally, businesses in areas that are loosening lockdown restrictions are very eager to resume business as soon as possible- but this means some economies are reopening while infection numbers are still high. This means employees and customers remain uneasy about resuming work, as governments lift lockdowns in advance of COVID-19 fully subsiding.
As a hesitant return to normal business operations begins, companies need a way to keep
track of who contacts whom- and this is where contact tracing comes into play.
As a hesitant return to normal business operations begins, companies need a way to keep track of who contacts whom- and this is where contact tracing comes into play. Contact tracing traditionally requires a large number of full-time staff members, but mobile apps can now perform important contact tracing functions in place of human workers. This raises the question of whether businesses should opt for their own contact tracing mobile solutions.
As you may know, contact tracing is a controversial practice that has earned vocal defenders and critics. The intent of this article is not to endorse the adoption of contact tracing apps. Rather, the intent is to provide you with information from an enterprise perspective that will help you make an informed decision for your company.
What purpose do contact tracing apps serve?
Contact tracing apps record the day-to-day movement of the smartphones on which they are installed. Depending on the specific app, the app may record a history of the device’s location, or instances in which a device came within close proximity of another user’s device.
Contact tracing apps record the day-to-day movement of the smartphones on which they are installed.
Some apps (especially those oriented to businesses) provide users with daily prompts to provide updates on their health, letting organizations identify at-risk populations in advance of any official COVID-19 disease diagnosis.
If a user is actually diagnosed with COVID-19, the application can send alerts to “at-risk” individuals who may have come into contact with the ill user. Apps typically relay the activity of those diagnosed with COVID-19 to government authorities in some form, but the specific information being shared varies from app to app.
If a user is actually diagnosed with COVID-19, the application can send alerts
to “at-risk” individuals who may have come into contact with the ill user.
How do contact tracing apps work?
As discussed by the legal commentary site Lawfare, app-based contact tracing can generally take one of two forms: GPS location tracking, and/or Bluetooth-based monitoring that records when two devices with the app installed come into close proximity with each other.
Google and Apple have partnered to build a framework that relies exclusively on Bluetooth, but some American states and municipalities (such as North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah) use apps that include GPS functionality.
Why would I mandate that my employees install a Contact Tracing app?
The most apparent reason for contact tracing is to minimize infection rates in regions returning to normal schedules. For Bluetooth-based content tracing, an interaction between two devices will only register if both devices have the same contact tracing app installed. This means that Bluetooth-based content tracing is only effective if a majority of individuals in a given area install and use the app.
Workers will likely be more comfortable returning to the workplace if there is a system in place to prevent further infection. In turn, customers will be more likely to patronize places that have enacted rigorous contact tracing protocols.
From an economic perspective, contact tracing apps can confer a range of benefits. Workers will likely be more comfortable returning to the workplace if there is a system in place to prevent further infection. In turn, customers will be more likely to patronize places that have enacted rigorous contact tracing protocols. This could make it easier to return businesses to full capacity as soon as possible.
As time goes on, Bluetooth-based verification will become easier and easier to implement. Both iOS and Android devices will soon feature native OS support for Bluetooth contact tracing, which should make it easier to standardize contact tracing.
Finally, contact tracing can be as passive or as participatory as your organization needs. Employees might simply activate the app and move on with the day, or regularly update the app regarding their well-being via surveys. In this way, companies can require only a minimal investment of effort to participate as an employee.
Why Would I choose not to mandate Contact Tracing apps for my employees?
There are many concerns associated with contact tracing, beginning with the concern that adoption will not be sufficiently widespread to be effective.
The most frequent objection raised against contact tracing is the potential for privacy violations. This has already become reality in South Korea, where government-published tracing data has led to the public shaming of some individuals matched with specific activities. Knowing that businesses could potentially view worker activities out-of-the-office would strongly disincentivize many from participating in contact tracing.
Apple and Google have created a joint solution based on Bluetooth, with the argument that GPS data is substantially more revealing than Bluetooth-based contacts between devices. The Bluetooth model could automatically inform those who were at-risk, but could not provide location data without GPS. Some states already employ GPS in their contact tracing apps, and even explicitly ask for the user’s name and phone number, making anonymity impossible.