The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created an app that can theoretically tell you if you have crossed paths with someone who has the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The app Private Kit: Safe Paths is a free, open-source app that works by sharing location data between people’s phones to let them know if they have come in contact with someone who has contracted the coronavirus.
A person who has contracted the virus can share the information within the app, or choose to share with health officials who can then make it public. This enables the app to send users notifications on which locations have had a confirmed coronavirus case.
An associate professor at the MIT Media Lab Ramesh Raskar, said that the app could allow specific locations to be closed off rather than shutting down entire areas or cities as we have so far seen. This approach is meant to ease the social and economic disruption the coronavirus has put on communitoes in the U.S.
The app was created in conjunction with team members from Harvard, Facebook, Mayo Clinic, and more, along with further collaboration from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While the app is meant to inform people more about where the coronavirus has been, it could potentially incite panic, since people could suddenly find out that their next-door neighbor has the coronavirus. It poses the question of whether we are better off not knowing rather than being in the know.
On Monday, it was reported that Israel was advocating to do the same thing for its citizens by using a secret trove of cell phone location data. The data would be used to decide who to put in quarantine based on whether they crossed paths with someone who was diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The U.S. government is also reportedly looking into how it can work with big tech companies such as Facebook and Google to see if cell phone location data can be used to combat the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak.