Harvard, MIT develop tracking app that alerts users if they're near someone who tested positive for COVID-19 

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Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers developed a mobile application that follows users' movements and alerts them if they have come into contact or near an individual who has self-reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to MIT Technology Review

The open-source app, dubbed Private Kit: Safe Paths, tracks users' locations and shares the data with other app users in a "privacy-preserving way," the publication reported March 17. The app shares encrypted location data between phones in the network without going through a central authority, which lets users see if they may have come into contact with someone who has the coronavirus without knowing the person's identity.

Users will be alerted if they have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 only if that person shares the information with the app. A person using the app who has tested positive for COVID-19 can also opt to share their location data with health officials.

Ramesh Raskar, lead researcher on the project at the MIT Media Lab, told MIT Technology Review that the app will only make an impact on reducing the spread of COVID-19 if enough people use it; incomplete information could prompt a false idea of security if users think certain areas are safe from infection when the app lacked sufficient data to mark hot spots.  

Facebook and Uber software engineers helped the research team at Harvard and MIT, both in Cambridge, Mass., develop the app, which is free to the public for download.

 

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