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Apps Gone Rogue: Maintaining Personal Privacy in an Epidemic

Authors: Ramesh Raskar, Isabel Schunemann, Rachel Barbar, Kristen Vilcans, Jim Gray, Praneeth Vepakomma, Suraj Kapa, Andrea Nuzzo, Rajiv Gupta, Alex Berke, Dazza Greenwood, Christian Keegan, Shriank Kanaparti, Robson Beaudry, David Stansbury, Beatriz Botero Arcila, Rishank Kanaparti, Vitor Pamplona, Francesco Maria Benedetti, Alina Clough, Riddhiman Das, Kaushal Jain, Khahlil Louisy, Greg Nadeau, , Steve Penrod, Yasaman Rajaee, Abhishek Singh, Greg Storm, John Werner


With the recent almost ubiquitous availability of smartphones, many people carry a tool that can be utilized to quickly identify an infected individual's contacts during an epidemic, such as the current 2019 novel Coronavirus crisis. Unfortunately, first-generation contact tracing tools have been used to expand mass surveillance, limit individual freedoms, and expose the most private details about individuals. This work outlines the different technological approaches to mobile-phone based contact-tracing to date and elaborates on the opportunities and the risks that these technologies pose to individuals, societies, and technology developers. Advanced security-enhancing approaches can mitigate these risks.

Containment, the key strategy in quickly halting an epidemic, requires rapid identification and quarantine of the infected individuals, determination of whom they have had close contact within the previous days and weeks, and decontamination of locations the infected individual has visited. Achieving containment demands accurate and timely collection of the infected individual's location and contact history. Traditionally, this process is labor-intensive, susceptible to memory errors, and fraught with privacy concerns. With this paper, our aim is to continue to grow the conversation regarding contact-tracing for epidemic and pandemic containment and discuss opportunities to advance this space. We invite feedback and discussion.

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