Raleigh, North Carolina (AP) – Six months ago, Apple and Google introduced a new smartphone tool designed to notify people who may have been exposed to the Coronavirus, without revealing any personal information. But for the most part, the Americans weren’t interested that much.
Fewer than half of the U.S. states and territories – 18 in total – have made this technology widely available. According to an analysis of data by the Associated Press, the vast majority of Americans in such locations have not activated the tool.
Data from 16 states, Guam and the District of Columbia show that 8.1 million people used this technology as of late November. This is about one in 14 of the 110 million residents in those areas.
In theory, apps like this could boost one of the most difficult tasks in fighting epidemics: tracking people infected with the Coronavirus to screen them and isolate them if needed. In practice, experts and users say that widespread misinformation about the emerging coronavirus, technology complexity, health worker fatigue needed to quickly confirm a diagnosis, and a lack of public awareness have all posed obstacles.
“There are a lot of things that work against it,” said Jessica Vitak, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Information Studies. “Unfortunately, in the United States, COVID has been politicized much more than any other country. I think this affects people’s desire to use tools to track it.”
Charlotte, North Carolina, Attorney Evan Metaxatus was happy when he learned in November about his state’s tracking app, called SlowCOVIDNC. He immediately downloaded it and made his parents and pregnant wife follow suit.
But they’re still out in the state, which launched the app in September without much fanfare. Of the nearly 10.5 million residents of the state, only 482,003 had installed it as of the end of November.
“It won’t work great until everyone uses it, but it’s better than nothing,” Metaxatos said.
Apple and Google have jointly created the core technology behind such apps, which uses Bluetooth wireless signals to anonymously detect when two phones spend time in close proximity. If an app user tests positive for the virus, that person’s phone can trigger a notification for other people who’ve spent time near them – without revealing names, locations, or any other identifying information.
In states like Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington, as well as Washington, DC, iPhone users don’t even have to download an app. In fact, Apple is asking users via popups to activate the notification system by adjusting their phone’s settings.
In these countries, the adoption rates are significantly higher. But even in its most successful state, Connecticut, only about a fifth of the population chose this tracking. Washington said on Friday that more than a million residents of the state – nearly 13% of its population – activated the technology in its first four days.
The COVIDWISE app launched in Virginia on August 5 and was the first to go live. Since then, fewer than one in ten residents have downloaded it, although the state estimates that nearly 20% of Virginia residents between the ages of 18 and 65 who have a smartphone have done so. Delaware app downloads account for about 7% of the state’s population.
All other U.S. states analyzed have significantly lower adoption rates.
New York launched its app on October 1. Its app recently surpassed 1 million downloads, which is around 5% of the population. The states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania saw less use, with a 4% download rate.
Adoption is lower in Wyoming, North Dakota, Michigan, Nevada and Alabama, with users only 1% to 3% of their state’s population. Free apps can be found on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for Android devices; They are also usually available on state health department websites.
Irish app developer NearForm says more than a quarter of Ireland’s population use the COVID-19 app. It was hard to get such an attraction in the four US states that they built similar apps: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
In Ireland, “All aspects of the political divide have met with a coherent message on this, which is what we need to do,” said Larry Breen, chief trade officer at Nirform. “This debate is still raging on your side of Al-Baraka.”
Elsewhere in Europe, assimilation was mixed. Germany and Britain have similar penetration rates to Ireland; In Finland the figure is 45%, according to data compiled by MIT Technology Review. However, in France, less than 4% of the population uses the official COVID app, which avoids Apple-Google’s approach to a more intrusive data collection system that has raised privacy concerns and technical issues.
Security experts praise the Apple-Google system for protecting users’ anonymity, but selling it has been difficult for many people. American users say partisanship, privacy concerns, and stigma surrounding COVID-19 have kept engagement low. The lack of state and federal efforts to raise awareness has not helped.
They have no technological and bureaucratic issues.
Lee McFarland, a loan officer at Grand Forks, North Dakota, was eager to download Care19 Alert in his state, but said he couldn’t hit the “Notify Others” button after contracting the virus in late October.
A message on the McFarland app said: “If the test results are positive, a Public Health Officer will call and verify your code.” “This ensures that only people verified with COVID-19 can send notifications.
MacFarland said he forgot to tell the health worker that he had installed the app on his phone. He did not succeed in following up with the operator to obtain the required code, and has since deleted the application.
Even when this process works, many North Dakota residents don’t actually press the button to notify others.
Tim Brookins, CEO of app development company ProudCrowd, said 91 of North Dakota’s 14,000 active users had the “Notify Others” button enabled after the state confirmed they were positive. Of the 91 users, only 29 pressed the button, which resulted in 50 notifications.
However, many users say they will hold the app in the hope that others will see its potential benefits.
“You can say that about almost anything that not enough people do, but whoever does something helps,” said David Wachter, a general contractor from Lenoir, North Carolina. “I think the United States could use a good powerful dose of E Pluribus Unum and stop thinking about oneself and start thinking about our citizens.”
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