Tech companies and governments are racing to develop contact tracing apps. Have any of them asked if they’ll ever work?

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Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

As a Product Designer, I’m used to viewing the problems of the world optimistically. Leverage good design principles, and expect to create a good product that enables positive outcomes. So, when the need to contact trace COVID-19 became apparent, I wondered what an app for this would look like — and it almost immediately became clear to me how difficult it would be to implement a viable app-based contact tracing system at any scale.

The idea behind a contact tracing app is simple — when a patient tests positive for the virus, the app works backwards and identifies the people who the patient has been in direct and indirect contact with recently, as these other people may have been exposed themselves. This is done repeatedly, creating a network of “safe” and “exposed” people. Google and Apple recently announced a joint partnership to build a large-scale contact tracing app. Governments are in on this race too — Singapore and South Korea have apps live right now, and the UK has one set to launch within days. This begs the question — did they ever stop to think about if these apps would actually work? …


John Falcone

Product Designer in Austin, Texas. Interested in technology, economics, and how both can make our world better for everyone.

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