Maker of Things
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Maker of Things

Tracking COVID-19 (with privacy)

[Edit: 14/3 added VICE Snowden interview 14/4 added MIT-TR article 23/4 added German lab result linking 24/4 added Australian COVIDSafe app and changes 5/4 Added Google/Apple almost live link]

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about how the big tech companies (Google mostly) could help with tracking COVID-19 — but still keep your privacy.

As I’ve been putting my ideas on paper there has been a lot of work in this area, including technology from Singapore, Europe (and here), America (MIT) and as of today an announcement from Google and Apple (almost live) to use Bluetooth for privacy-focused contact tracing. Cities have also been gearing up for the time when we can start contract tracing en-mass (hopefully sooner than later!). There has been work on advertising tracking and self reporting. Google has released reports each day on people’s changing mobility and even Facebook is asking people about their health! Germany has now linked lab results to their tracing app, although they are looking at changing to use the Google/Apple technology. Australia has released their COVIDSafe app.

Please also watch the VICE Snowden interview as well to understand the downsides, and this great MIT Technology Review article about both sides.

“unpicking the potential panopticon” (Technology Review)

The Idea

Introduction to COVID-19 Tracing App

My idea, before the Bluetooth contact tracing became vogue, was to use the information already collected by Google on your Google Maps Timeline, collated anonymously, to get better information about people’s movements.

Google could push this out as a Maps update, so anyone who already used Google Maps could participate.

The idea is to be privacy-focused, and allow people to opt-in, and opt-out at any time.

The App

You can view my prototype on Figma below (on mobile click here). [Sorry designers! It’s my first time using Figma, and a long time since I’ve designed. Illustrations used are from — thank you!]

The interactive app idea.


The first step is to explain what we are tying to do, how we are doing it, and get the users’ permission to use their already tracked Timeline information.

We then do the same for contract tracing. The idea is similar to what Google and Apple are working on currently.

The main interface

The main part of the app is divided into four parts:

  • General information on how to be safe and help your community
  • Information on laws and requirements for the user’s local area, state and country
  • A way to report a COVID-19 infection, with or without a test
  • And the user’s profile which shows the information collected, and allows them to opt-out and stop collecting data.

Useful information for the medical field and policy makers

The information from the user’s location is normalized to within boundaries with somewhat similar population sizes (for privacy); here I am using census boundaries.

Only this normalized and privatized data is then uploaded to Google, and compiled on a daily basis.

Maps are then made available that show how far people are travelling to or from a given area. This data can then be filtered by essential work and activities.

The output of the location data collected.
The output of the location data collected. Note the areas used are census boundaries so no specific location data is collected.

You can see the full map below (not interactive).

The (non-interactive) idea of the output for the medical field and policy makers.

Thank you. I hope everyone stays safe!

— Tarwin (@tarwin)



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