An app called Private Kit: Safe paths developed by people at MIT and Harvard in collaboration with software engineers and tech giants, namely, Facebook and Uber, have done a marvellous job in their free time. Ramesh Raskar at MIT Media Lab who leads the team says, “Private Kit: Safe Paths is an app that tracks where you have been and who you have crossed paths with—and then shares this personal data with other users in a privacy-preserving way—could help curb the spread of COVID-19.”

Privacy concerns

Considering the severity of the situation, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for stringent measures with an aim to contain the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. And the basic idea to be successful in this is to isolate the infected individuals. Additionally, identifying the ones that have been in contact with infected people is also essential. Once this information is handy, those people can be tested and the areas can be disinfected to alleviate the spread of the disease.

In countries such as China, the data has been extracted from people’s phones and is processed by the government for safety purposes. But the catch here is that such kind of government surveillance can be difficult in democratic nations such as the US or the UK.

Another highlight here is the social stigma faced by people that urges to keep such sensitive data private.

More on how the app operates

Private Kit: Safe Paths works by sharing encrypted location details between cell phones in a network in a way that it does not have to go through the central authority. This allows users to check if there is a possibility of them coming into contact with an individual carrying Coronavirus. Additionally, the person who uses this app and tests positive can choose to share his or her location data with health officials who can then make the information public.

P.S. The app can be useful only if people use it. But it is important to know that the app can only tell about where the virus has been, not where it is going.