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COVID-19 Crisis: Contact Tracing and The Biggest Big Tech Partnership

4 MINUTE READ | April 13, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis: Contact Tracing and The Biggest Big Tech Partnership

Happy Monday, let’s have a productive week. 

In today’s briefing, 

  • Weekend in Review

  • The Biggest Big Tech Partnership Yet

  • Looking ahead

It is a Monday, so we’ll start with the more unfavorable news first.

The United States officially surpassed other countries in its tally of the most confirmed cases, reaching 500,000 over the weekend. With more than 6.6M people filing for unemployment the week before, everyone is ready for businesses to reopen and things to return to normal, but experts warn that quarantines and shelter in place restrictions are necessary and should still be a part of our daily lives for some time.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: This situation is complicated. The economy isn’t a light switch to be turned on and off, and it will take time for things to roar back to life once the risk of disease subsidies. One area not yet explored at large is how the outbreak and subsequent economic and social lockdowns will alter people’s comfort with large gatherings and packed spaces.

Speaking of large gatherings, this weekend was a constitutional nightmare for representatives and local governments as pastors and churchgoers were urged not to hold or attend in-person Easter worship services to reduce the spread of disease. It was the ultimate battle between protecting constitutional rights and public health interests. The result was a patchwork of new restrictions and public messages across the country that was near impossible to navigate or track. Given its confusion, I’ll be curious to see if any indictments spring up in the coming weeks accusing local governments of violating First Amendment protections.

Perhaps the most significant (actionable and tech-related) news story came late Friday afternoon with Apple and Google announcing a rare partnership to build a platform and host of apps for contact tracing the coronavirus using Bluetooth and mobile location data. From The Verge,

The new system, which is laid out in a series of documents and white papers, would use short-range Bluetooth communications to establish a voluntary contact-tracing network, keeping extensive data on phones that have been in close proximity with each other. Official apps from public health authorities will get access to this data, and users who download them can report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. The system will also alert people who download them to whether they were in close contact with an infected person.”

Contact tracing is the process and containment method of slowing the spread of disease by alerting people of their possible exposure to someone who they’ve recently been in contact with who received a positive diagnosis for the virus. By alerting people of close contact, individuals can self-quarantine or shelter in place and reduce the risk of spreading the disease even further. It can be a complicated system to establish but has emerged as the most promising solution for containing COVID-19 and reducing localized outbreaks.

Both Apple and Google have shifted priorities and will be focused primarily on tracking the coronavirus outbreak while juggling user privacy. In a nutshell, this co-built app/platform would be a new digital surveillance technology but quickly raised privacy concerns along with questions about its effectiveness. It’s a bit early to provide an opinion, but to learn more, Google and Apple released detailed outlines of the technology that are worth taking a look at.

There’s not much to look forward to, but of what remains, here’s what’s likely to make headlines this week. 

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  • Corporate earnings for Q1 will begin this week and are likely to give us a greater understanding of how the outbreak altered big business.

  • Consumer spending shifts. The New York Times released a fascinating overview of how consumers are changing their spending habits. As we enter nearly a month of quasi-quarantine in the U.S., these shifts are likely to only intensify. 

  • Entertainment, please. NBCUniversal’s Peacock launches for Comcast subscribers this week, and new footage of Tiger King Joe Exotic, the Netflix sensation, is set to air on Fox.

  • When should the economy reopen? Public health officials and governments are clashing over if/when the economy should open for business. Local governments are pushing forward their own recommendations due to a lack of federal guidance.


Posted by Abby Long

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