California's Apple and Google-based contact tracing app will rely on consumers' willingness to use it

  • California's Apple and Google-based contact tracing app launched across the state.
  • While the app could help limit further spread of the coronavirus, its full impact will come down to consumers' willingness to use it.
  • Insider Intelligence publishes hundreds of insights, charts, and forecasts on the Connectivity & Tech industry with the Connectivity & Tech Briefing. You can learn more about subscribing here.

After an initial pilot program on several University of California campuses, the state of California's contact tracing app—dubbed CA Notify—will be available for download and use by individuals with compatible iPhone or Android devices as of December 10, per TechCrunch. For context, participation in the CA Notify app is on an opt-in basis.

The app is based on Apple and Google's codeveloped exposure notification API—and can help bolster the effectiveness of traditional contact tracing programs. The duo's API leverages Bluetooth to assess whether contact has taken place between coronavirus-positive individuals and others—users will then be alerted of their potential exposure while data related to their identity and location won't be stored or shared.

For context, individuals who test positive receive a text message containing a code from public health authorities, which they can then enter in the CA Notify app. The API is customizable, in that state health authorities can specify details such as how close and for how long individuals need to be in contact in order to be deemed an exposure risk.

While the CA Notify app isn't designed to completely replace contact tracing initiatives, it can be a valuable, complementary tool to more traditional contact tracing programs: Research shows that contact tracing programs aren't as effective when a virus spreads as widely as the novel coronavirus has throughout much of the world.

While the CA Notify app could be a useful tool in the fight against the rapidly spreading coronavirus, its full impact will ultimately be decided by consumers' willingness to use it. Given that use of the CA Notify app is on an opt-in basis, the effectiveness of the tool as a complementary solution to more traditional contact tracing programs is contingent on whether or not a meaningful number of individuals decide to use it.

This could diminish the app's potential to help limit the further spread of the novel coronavirus, considering US consumers' skepticism over how they believe their personal data will be handled by a tool developed by Big Tech: 56% of US adults said they wouldn't trust tech companies like Apple and Google to ensure that sensitive information like diagnostic status remains anonymous, per a Washington Post-University of Maryland national poll conducted in late April.

And while Apple and Google promised transparency around their data-sharing practices amid the development of their exposure notification API, they'll need to remain vigilant in terms of sharing their techniques, data storage methods, and protocols to potentially earn the public's trust with such sensitive information and drive adoption of the CA Notify app. However, this seems like a long shot, considering the abysmally low rates of participation experienced by similar state tracing apps—only 3% of adults in Nevada have used that state's COVID Trace app, for example.

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