San Francisco task force will use digital tracking app to trace coronavirus interactions

The San Francisco public health department is establishing a task force of researchers, medical students and others from UC San Francisco who will use an online app to trace the interactions of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to MIT Technology Review.

The task force's goal is to find out who transmitted COVID-19 to the people who have tested positive as well as who those people may pass it on to.

The group will use an online and phone-based contact-tracing app to manage COVID-19 cases and ongoing care. The task force will also send daily text messages to people who have potentially been exposed, checking in to see if they have developed symptoms. If someone has developed symptoms, the task force can flag its workers to follow up with the individual and provide resources and guidance.

The task force will also ask patients for permission to analyze their phone location data, so they can gain a stronger perspective of where the person has been and areas that could have potentially been crowded. However, there are privacy laws in place that limit what type of location data U.S. health official can use. The government and research groups are now exploring ways to create anonymous digital contact tracing through mobile phones, apps and other digital tools, according to the report.

If not enough people enroll in digital contact tracing efforts, it could potentially hinder effectiveness and give users false confidence about what public areas are safe, said Ryan Calo, a Seattle-based University of Washington law professor who specializes in digital privacy issues, according to the report.

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