As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, one tool to control spread and exposure is to use tracing technology. Through a smartphone app, users can track and communicate how many other individuals they have been exposed to. Likewise, the apps can monitor the overall mobility of citizens in targeted regions.
A large issue to grapple with tracing apps is privacy. For many citizens, they do not want their locations tracked closely. With information where personal identification is scrubbed, tracking apps give public health and policy makers data on which to make their decisions.
Are smartphones ready for tracing apps?
There are several prerequisite technologies for tracking apps. Most tracing apps use Bluetooth technology to sense the proximity of other nearby devices. Specifically, there needs to be support for Bluetooth 4 or above. And for iOS and Android, Bluetooth 4 requires a relatively recent version of the operating system. For iOS, Apple has supported Bluetooth 4 since iOS version 5. Globally, more than 96% of iOS users are on a version that supports Bluetooth 4 . For Android, users need Android 4.3 or above. Android has always been less successful at forcing operating system upgrades. Globally, only 74% of Android users are on version 4.3 or above.
Is technology a barrier to tracking apps?
Given that 81.8% of the world’s current smartphones can support tracing apps’ technology, we would conclude no, technology is not major a barrier to effective adoption of tracking apps. The greater issue is privacy concerns, political will of policy makers, and support from users to adopt tracing apps.
We analyzed the caseload of Covid 19 in various countries using data from Johns Hopkins. In the countries with the most cases, smartphone readiness ranged from 86% to 93%. The entire Mobile Overview Report (MOVR) for 2020 Q1 can be downloaded here.
All of these countries are above the global average. This reinforces the message that technology is not the problem. In fact, some of the countries with the highest caseload also have the highest readiness for tracing technology. For example, as of May 18, 2020, Brazil ranked third in the world by confirmed caseload, but 93% of its smartphone users are ready for tracing apps.
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Below are details for several countries with significant Covid 19 caseloads.