Lesson 5 : Digital Contact Tracing - Failure to Deliver

COVID-19 has caused huge disruptions to the way we live our lives. However, everything will eventually get to some normality again. But it will be a new norm.

Data detail during COVID-19

I’ll be posting these insights regularly with the fifth one shown below. Data is pivotal in all of the lessons presented. They are brief with factual and personal views. Feel free to comment and contribute. I am expecting differences of opinion. Some of the topics are somewhat controversial. Some lessons learnt are however plainly obvious.


  • Contact tracing has been around for many years. When faced with a deadly disease outbreak, societies have the ability to trace one’s steps to identify who has been in contact or exposed to a person carrying a disease, a virus or some infectious illness.
  • The eradication of smallpox, for example, was achieved not by universal immunisation, but by exhaustive contact tracing to find all infected persons.
  • Traditionally it was manual and performing old-school detective work. By finding each sick person and then determining who they recently came into contact with helps get outbreaks of diseases like COVID-19 under control.
  • Identification of an outbreak is typically followed by isolation of infected individuals and immunisation/treatment if available and protecting the surrounding community and contacts at-risk.

The benefits of contact tracing include:

  1. To offer early diagnosis and treatment to already infected individuals
  2. If the infection is treatable, to help prevent reinfection of the originally infected patient
  3. To learn about the epidemiology of a disease in a particular population 4.To keep the general community at large safe
  • Technology however has made contact tracing significantly easier. I say this however with some level of trepidation. Technology today is capable of making contact tracing much easier.
  • South Korea and Taiwan (https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-digital-contact-tracing-slowed-covid-19-in-east-asia) are two countries that have successfully used digital contact tracing to control COVID-19. Both of these countries have learned from more recent epidemics like SARS and MERS and have freely adopted digital contact tracing technology to control the outbreak.
  • China’s app is much stricter than in many other countries. Not only is it mandatory, but tied to a person’s identification (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/03/coronavirus-apps-how-australias-covidsafe-compares-to-other-countries-contact-tracing-technology).


Digital Contact Tracing technology does work, as demonstrated by many South East Asian countries. Digital contact tracing is important. It serves to locate COVID-19 hot spots; it identifies carriers and where they have been; it notifies people in close proximity of carriers; and manages/controls the spread.

In many western countries, digital contact tracing has been less effective. The adopted technology (like in my native Country Australia - COVIDSAFE) is quite frankly shizen houzen. It does not work – period. Bluetooth technology, on its own, is great for headphones, but terrible for complex digital contact tracing.

Mobile devices embrace many technologies, specifically for tacking and tracing. Technologies include: global positioning systems (GPS), beacons (linked via Bluetooth), telecommunication technology, mobile app data, device data along with other tools can be used to find out where you are, where you’ve been and who was/is around you at the time.

To maximise the benefit of these tools, it is the use of a combination of some or all of the above-mentioned instruments that will render benefit for dealing with COVID-19.

Some (non-technology) reasons for the technology failure include:

  • Battlegrounds between major technology and data platforms refusing to ‘open their doors’ for good;
  • Data privacy/data security issues – citizens not trusting governments/technology providers and governments/technology providers not trusting their citizens;
  • The general community refusing to adopt technology for the benefit of the community; and
  • Governments and technology providers not being able to come together to show leadership on an issue that has brought the world to its knees.

Is it possible to make the technology available while still preserving the sensitivities around privacy, data security and proprietary technologies?

Many will hide behind data security, data privacy, and proprietary technology masks and there will be much finger pointing and yet what we have here is a failure to agree. In the near future, almost every device on earth will be connected to the internet. It is a given that billions of phones, computers, digital watches, digital glasses, body chips, Internet of things (IoT) sensors etc. will mark the maturity of the information age. Let’s accept what is happening. Let’s use technology for good because we can. Let the technology providers, governments and its citizens find some common ground for dealing with these types of global issues. Jump the chasm.

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