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techreview254 karma

Oh god, the most frustrating part is the whole thing. It's not exactly high-tech, but the lack of good public communication makes me the most frustrated. Since it's really hard to figure out what the hell is going on, people have to do a bunch of Google searches to find a reliable answer -- that's expecting an unacceptably high level of computer literacy, especially since we're trying to vaccinate a bunch of elderly people.

As for solutions, more health departments need to meet people where they live, by reaching out to places like church and senior centers and setting up mobile clinics (which will obviously become easier as vaccine supplies increase). We need to fund public health departments and hire people to do the work -- more hands on deck will solve a lot of other problems, too.


techreview217 karma

Hi -- We're not tracking the safety of apps with this project. We're tracking how the apps work (in Aarogya Setu's case, it uses Bluetooth and location data) and how the data is used, what kind of data it collects, if the data is ever destroyed, if the app is voluntary, and if the project is transparent. Some of those questions can also help you figure out if the app is safe for you.

In India's case, the app is not voluntary, data use is not effectively minimized or limited, and it's not been a particularly transparent effort. It does have over 100 million users and offers a wide range of services that no other app does.

It's a complicated decision, we're trying to provide more data to help inform people but we are not making recommendations. - Patrick

techreview204 karma

Good question. We previously looked at technical issues surrounding the use of Bluetooth and we're looking at location data now. The short answer is that the precision and accuracy of location data varies drastically.

Triangulation depends on many variables (for instance, is your phone even connected to three towers? In rural areas, the answer could be as low as 0 towers.) but it boils down to the best case scenario being 3/4 of a mile precision which is not precise enough on an individual level but which can provide aggregate data that could in theory help understand an outbreak. To point out the other method being used for location tracking, GPS is generally far more precise in good conditions but also depends on many variables including the weather, your hardware, whether you're inside or outside, and availability of satellites.

All of that adds up to some problems that are impossible to pin down exactly but which are definitely significant. To answer your question (in what I'm sure is a pretty unsatisfying way, I'm sorry about that), yes it can be (and is being) used for contact tracing if needed but there will be significant problems including false positives and negatives that has to be accounted for.

There's another side/cost to location tracking which is the privacy dimension. That varies from project to project and it wasn't the point of your question so I won't delve into it but I felt it had to be at least pointed out. - Patrick

techreview130 karma

India's app is not open source right now, the project is not particularly transparent at the moment, and it doesn't have strong governance at this time so it lacks stars from us on all those accounts. So the answer to your question is that we don't know and we tried to have our database reflect those major blindspots. - Patrick

techreview130 karma

Hi! This is a good question, and I don't think there's a perfect answer. We've certainly heard reports that pharmacies are overwhelmed with calls, and overall any phone-based vaccine sign-up system will be already be over-stressed, because elderly people may be trying to call instead of use the clunky websites we've written about. But if you happen to be _offered_ a dose outside of your phase, there may be more to think about. We just published an essay by Wudan Yan about her experience of getting a vaccine outside of her phase. It talks about some of the mental gymnastics she had to go through, and points to some broader ways to think through this. https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/02/01/1017125/queue-expiring-covid-vaccine-ethics/

I also appreciated this overview from an ethics perspective: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/21/opinion/covid-vaccine-ethics.html

-- Lindsay