Features of COVID-19 applications and their impact on contact tracing: results of preliminary review
Keywords:telehealth, COVID-19, contact tracing, privacy, review
Digital technologies and telehealth, specifically contact tracing applications can complement traditional approaches for contact tracing of COVID-19 and overall COVID-19 control strategies. Despite the potential benefits of these novel approaches, concerns regarding privacy and basic rights have challenged application development and adoption. We explore the features of tracing applications, focusing on the trade-off between technical possibilities and privacy concerns. Our main objective is to map out central features of applied technology solutions that may prove as drivers or constrains for future development. Our secondary aim was to review how the effectiveness of tracing applications was being apprehended in research. We conducted a literature review of COVID-19 tracing applications and related privacy issues using the PubMed database. For analysis, we conceptualized contact tracing and data privacy. Our review identified various technologies with potential for contact tracing, with Bluetooth and GPS based solutions being the most common. Effectiveness of the applications is dependent on how widely these are adopted. However, technological approaches of the applications vary markedly, affecting their effectiveness for pandemic control. Privacy and trust are key limitations affecting application adoption. Existing privacy solutions are based on voluntary use, user consent, cryptographic data storage, minimum data collection, limited data usage, and transparency of the contact tracing applications and frameworks. Although evidence of applications’ outcomes and benefits is yet tentative, the first evaluation frameworks for the applications are under development. In order to obtain maximum potential benefit from the applications, real-world evidence needs to be analyzed and evaluated carefully. However, along with contact tracing apps and comprehensive health programs, regulatory frameworks and safeguards are necessary to ensure that health information is not used for surveillance purposes and that app users’ privacy is maintained.
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