This week, the Commonwealth of Virginia released a COVID-19 exposure notification app that's powered by Apple and Google's heavily-touted contact tracing API. Why is this news months after the tool was released? Because Virginia is the first state to do so. Meanwhile, new COVID-19 infections continue to be announced all around the country.
To date, only four U.S. states plan to use the tracing API, according to 9to5Mac. The other three, Oklahoma, Alabama, South Carolina, have yet to release a supported app, while the 46 other states and the District of Columbia are going down completely different paths. Some of these are developing solutions that mostly focus on GPS, which brings up privacy concerns, while others have elected to do what amounts to nothing.
When Apple and Google announced the API, they noted how privacy played into the tool's creation. For example, the system doesn't collect location data from the device or share the identifiers of other users. It also uses random Bluetooth identifiers to help prevent tracking. Perhaps most importantly, exposure notification is only done on an individual device and under the user's control.
COVID-19 was long ago taken over by political forces in the U.S. because this happens to be an election year when control of Congress and the White House is at stake. In another year, our leaders would have quickly embraced this tool and praised both companies for coming together in a time of need. Instead, Washington would rather fight with these companies, in some cases, rightly so, to score short-term political points. Meanwhile, the average U.S. citizen is reminded 24/7 to keep wearing masks but remains mostly uninformed on where the virus is wreaking the most havoc at present.
If you get a chance, download Virginia's COVIDWISE app for iPhone, regardless of your location in the U.S. and see what you think. Please take a look at what it does (and doesn't do) in the name of privacy and see how it compares to whatever solution your state is putting forth.
I live in Pennsylvania, where a contact tracing tool isn't being offered to the masses. Instead, it seems bureaucrats armed with statistics are mostly in charge of the process. It took me about five minutes with the Virginia app to realize this type of solution is the one that everyone should be allowed to use to help eradicate this pesky virus.
With one COVID-19 API-supported solution finally live in the U.S., I hope other states take a second look at what Apple and Google are offering and follow suit. Otherwise, this crisis will continue to deteriorate while its politicians are more worried about keeping their jobs.
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