Exposure Notifications revisited

Myoung Cha lead the Exposure Notifications (EN) team at Apple. The team had high hopes for their privacy-preserving approach to notifications, but the technology was not widely adopted in the United States.

Bureaucracy was one reason for that.

Politics was another factor, as the Biden administration decided to rely on vaccines alone combat the virus.

That’s despite there being evidence that the EN technology showed good results in the UK and Europe, where it was used at the national level.

There is mounting evidence, however, that the apps do work when large numbers of people use them. A February 2021 study from researchers at Oxford University said an exposure notification app for people in England and Wales had likely prevented 600,000 coronavirus cases. At that point, more than 56 percent of eligible people were using the app. Their research also showed a 2.3 percent reduction in cases for every 1 percent increase in the number of app users.

An earlier study, published in September 2020, by researchers from Oxford and Google’s internal research team, showed even usage rates of 15 percent could reduce the spread of the virus.

— Gerrit De Vynck and Cat Zakrzewski, Omicron is spreading across the U.S. but few people use exposure notifications, The Washington Post

With the Omicron wave, I am hearing from friends and neighbors who are quarantining because of exposure. Despite the fact that my state is one of the few that adopted EN, my phone has so far not notified me of any of this.

Speed, scale and decentralization — too much of America’s pandemic response has lacked these three.


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