In the last two years contact tracing apps have been widely used for testing, tracking, and isolating activities in different regions of the world to help slow and interrupt the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
With all the benefits that this technology brought to the table also came different challenges that, at times, even questioned the use of such products. This is why today we want to shed some light on this topic: go through the challenges of tracing app development for COVID 19 and list new trends in covid contact tracing mobile application development to understand whether this technology has the future or not.
Main Covid-19 Contact Tracing App Trends
#1 — Public trust as a main focus
Lack of public trust became one of the major COVID-19 app contact tracing development challenges. According to Pew Research Center, for example, Americans struggle to provide their health information to officials and don't like answering questions in that regard — even when the requests are coming from the official health departments.
Similar cases exist in other countries as well, which at times results in low acceptance rates (i.e. number of people who are ready to install contact tracing apps) — in some European countries, this number was just above 30%, which is not enough for the technology to work effectively.
What could help solve this problem then? Wide media campaigns could explain to the general public how the technology works and why it's vital to use it. Wisely conducted legislative policy in this area could improve public opinion too.
#2 — Expansion of the contact tracing technology to new territories
The contact tracing technology, in fact, is not a new one. It has already been used in 2009 during the H1NI influenza pandemic or in 2014 to track the cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh.
In the early stages of COVID-19, China was the first country to adopt contact tracing apps to fight the pandemic. In 2020 similar products appeared in Japan, South Korea, and Uruguay. Later on, contact tracing solutions also expanded to European countries.
This all shows that contact tracing technology became more and more popular and penetraed new territories, and once the pandemic ends, the technology itself may find application in other fields of the healthcare industry.
#3 — Further development of governance laws and acts to cover contact tracing apps
Even though many countries were criticized for using highly privacy-invasive policies when adopting contact trace apps, as the pandemic started to move into its final phase, governments began introducing more flexible approaches in terms of contact tracing. Once strict policies are now being adjusted to the different levels of threat (disease stages) giving users more freedom while not compromising their privacy at the same time.
In the foreseeable future, we're likely to see the policymakers developing new guidelines that are specific to contact tracing technology (and products) only. They will be based on the experience that companies obtained while tailoring contact tracing apps to the concrete challenges and will also take into account cases where contact tracing failed to perform effectively.
Covid-19 Contact Tracing App Challenges
One of the biggest fears that the public had about the use of contact training apps was fueled by the lack of understanding that people had on how their personal information will be treated.
The main argument here was that the governments — of those countries that made contact tracing apps mandatory to install — could, later on, use provided data for other purposes which are not connected with the pandemic treatment.
There's a widespread opinion that such information as travel history, geolocation data, list of contacts, etc. can be used to establish stricter control over citizens in the future. In order to allay such fears and suspicions, the users should be provided with all the necessary information as to how their personal data will be processed, who will have access to it, how it will be transmitted, and what it will be used for.
An increase in the inequality gap was one of the surprising discoveries that came along with the contact trace apps. For one, some people basically don't have access to this technology — this particularly applies to elderly people (who don't have smartphones) and people from low-income countries.
Another category comprises disadvantaged workers and those employees whose profession doesn't permit working from home. These people are exposed to a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 (the same basically goes for their pool of contacts as well.)
Under such circumstances, these groups will likely be required to self-isolate more often, which also means that their psychological, economic, and social burden will get bigger — compared to those people who can benefit from the 'privileges' of remote working.
The ethical controversy around the use of contact tracing products has been following this technology since the very beginning. This is where two diametrically opposed concepts of 'collective health' and 'individual rights' have clashed together.
On the one hand, when the pandemic started the governments of different countries were forced to react quickly, adopting measures that restricted civil rights to reduce the spread of COVID-19. One such initiative was the mandatory installation of contact tracing tools in some regions/countries (East Asia in particular).
On the other hand, we have individual rights which suggest that the use of such apps should be voluntary, not compulsory. In order to balance 'collective' and 'individual' aspects the legislative regulations, for example, could allow users to delete contact trace apps from their phones, decide which data to share, how to react to its notifications, etc.
The development and introduction of new technology always takes a lot of time and research. In the case of contact tracing, technology companies couldn't invest a sufficient number of resources in R&D for very obvious reasons — the coronavirus pandemic was spreading very quickly, and the world needed a solution 'here and now'.
Such an approach resulted in contact tracing solutions facing numerous technical issues — sometimes smaller, sometimes bigger — that became evident only after the apps had been released. In some cases, for example, users couldn't install apps because their phones were older than two years.
In other instances apps triggered false alarms ('false-positive' covid interactions) in large numbers, making people self-isolate for no serious reason whatsoever. This was due to the faulty algorithms that were using the device's bluetooth to determine the proximity of COVID-19 interactions.
Another problem that came up was low effectiveness because contact tracing technology becomes effective only when the number of devices these apps are installed on becomes sufficient enough — to identify most contacts. Different studies claim that the uptake should be at least 60%; however, in practice, these numbers were much lower.
One of the main reasons why the general public became skeptical about contact tracing products is the concerns regarding apps' security and data usage. The fact that such apps collect and work with quite large volumes of personal data — coupled with the technical issues mentioned above — made them very attractive to cybercriminals.
There are already some examples of such data breaches: according to an independent report, in Indonesia, the personal information of 1.3 million users was exposed after a massive data leak from the electronic Health Alert Card (eHAC) — a contact tracing app issued by the Indonesian government.
Contact tracing apps have also been criticized for their data storage techniques — in the UK, for example, the developers of NHSX contact trace app decided to store all app's data on one central computer server, which raised a wave of criticism in the tech community because such a decision significantly increased the possible devastating effect from potential cyber-attacks.
Future of Covid-19 App Contact Tracing Development
The COVID-19 app contact tracing development future looks quite ambiguous but complicated at the same time. On one side, contact tracing apps have played an important role in stopping the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
On another side, however, this technology came with many issues and controversies that slowed the adoption of such apps — in the UK, for example, 49% of people with mobile phones had contact tracing apps installed on their phones. Which is much lower than the recommended level of 60%.
As to the technical issues, one of the biggest challenges for the COVID contact tracing mobile application development future is the imperfections of algorithms that had often generated incorrect numbers of infected contacts.
Nevertheless, if the developers and policymakers are able to overcome all the difficulties and COVID contact tracing app development challenges, this technology has the potential to go far beyond the COVID-19 frame of operation and penetrate the healthcare market even more.
Consider Lunka.tech Your Partner
The recommendations and advice we give in our posts always come from the practical experience that we obtained after developing mobile applications of different types and nature. During the coronavirus pandemic, our team was involved in several healthcare projects, one of which was Match Fit Pass — a COVID-19 application that combines the capabilities of an online booking platform with healthcare information.
Match Fit Pass allows for buying tickets for local sporting events in the UK right from the app. Aside from that, the application provides users with event attendance guidelines and can store vaccination certificates and PCR tests — in the form of QR codes — allowing stadium staff to easily scan/read all the required information from the app.
Сontact tracing technology has become a major trend in recent years. While collecting some criticism and controversy, it has also shown that it can be effectively used to tackle global disasters. In the foreseeable future, we are likely to see a new stage in COVID-19 contact tracing mobile app development that will go beyond the pandemic itself.
Companies will take into account all the challenges of COVID-19 сontact tracing app development to come up with more reliable and transparent products and thus make the technology itself more acceptable to the general public.
This is what the future of COVID-19 app contact tracing development looks like to us. We hope that you have found this article about COVID-19 contact tracing app development challenges helpful. If you have any questions regarding the COVID-19 contact tracing app development trends or need to develop your own project, get in touch with us in any way comfortable to you — via phone, e-mail, or feedback form. We'll discuss your concept and help bring your project to life!