Contact tracing apps can be a lifesaver in this pandemic age. Contact tracing has a proven record in preventing the spread of disease outbreaks. It is a simple yet effective technique based on notifying all the people who have been in contact with the infected person. The World Health Organization has reiterated that “tracing every contact must be the backbone of the response in every country.”

Contact tracing apps are a digital version of this technique. Worldwide, governments use these apps to keep track of infected persons and their contacts. BLE and other technologies help authorities to fetch and share the data. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea has successfully implemented a contact tracing system to keep the infection rate under control. Several other countries including France and Germany have also created apps of their own.

Challenges of Contact Tracing Apps

Let’s face it. For using the contact tracing app, users need a smartphone with a Bluetooth system. As per one survey, around 2 billion smartphones are not compatible with the contact tracing app based on BLE technology. Another nail in the coffin is it is necessary that people who are interacting with one another should use the system to get an accurate result. What’s more, many people have raised privacy concerns because of the permissions such apps need.

There is no exaggeration in mentioning that due to these major and some minor hurdles, digital contact tracing is just not sufficient to prevent everyone from being infected. Talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, it takes a long time to show symptoms and many people remain asymptomatic without being tested. Therefore, social distancing will remain the main for citizens to protect themselves even if many countries have brought contact tracing apps.

Countries like the UK and India asks people to stay more than two meters away from everyone. The UK guidance also includes avoidance of non-essential journeys in public transport vehicles and other social activities. But, as a social animal, social distancing is a bit challenging for us, especially after lockdowns are lifted. A UK-based firm’s report on social distancing has revealed that an essential factor in people being willing to follow social distance was they thought they could do it. But, as the necessity for maintaining social distance increases for a longer period, people will feel that they cannot maintain it.

Simply put, people fail to maintain the norms of social distancing even if they have the best intentions. Enthusiasm fades away gradually and people start compromising norms. Here, contact tracing apps lend a helping hand but then, it is necessary to focus on making these more apps more effective. Let’s understand the mechanism of the contact tracing app to find how we can make the app more efficient.

How Contact Tracing Apps Work

These apps store the Bluetooth identifier transmitted from every phone they encounter. They also store the received signal strength to get a rough approximation of the distance between two smartphones or say, two persons. The app keeps on fetching the identifiers of all people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or having a very high risk of getting infected. It will then finds whether its user has previously met or encountered any of these identifiers.

If the app finds any such encounter, it immediately triggers a warning message or phone call to alert the user. In a way, the contact tracing app can keep its users updated and guide them on how they can manage social distancing norms efficiently.

How Fitness Tracking App Feature Helps Contact Tracing Apps

To make this app more efficient, we can take inspiration from fitness tracking app development. It is beneficial to add a feature of fitness tracking apps to motivate users. In fitness tracking apps, this feature “nudges” users into doing a little better tomorrow while giving feedback on the user’s daily performance. Similarly, the contact tracing apps can tell users how many people they meet every day, and what kind of risk profile they have due to meeting people as compared to those who maintain social distancing laws. Here, anyone’s private information should not be leaked, but the impact of encounters can be shown to the users.

What’s more, the app can fetch the data that can differentiate between long and short encounters. It will help users track their efforts in following social distancing. A study has proven that this kind of approach can help people change their behavior and improve their health. Talking about contact tracing apps, nudging can be used to change people’s behavior in various ways. For example, NHS has sent warnings to vulnerable people to self-isolate for 12 weeks along with necessary information. It helps countries prevent the spread of disease.

Contact tracing apps offer an opportunity for agencies to introduce the data into maintaining social distancing. These apps eliminate the need of collecting or sharing any other data. Governments can leverage the benefits of ‘nudging’ like feature in the contact tracing apps to make them more powerful and effective in curbing the spread of coronavirus.