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Taiwan Launches Social Distancing App to Reduce COVID-19 Spread

Taiwan’s Centers of Disease Control (CDC) is collaborating with and Taiwan AI Labs to create Taiwan Social Distancing App for reducing the spread of Covid19. This community project uses Bluetooth technology and alerts users if they are exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases. The app aims to reduce the exposure risk of the COVID-19 cases.

According to the app’s introduction page, they are sure that the app will play a key role to encourage people to keep a daily routine with lower nonessential physical contacts. Disease modellers and epidemiologists with AI algorithms join AI Labs to fight the spread of new infections for flattening the curve.

According to the social distancing guidelines issued by Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), people are advised to stay at least 1 meter apart outdoors and 1.5 meters apart indoors. The app will notify users if they have been less than 2 meters from a confirmed case for more than two minutes.

According to the app’s introduction page, users need to enter their Bluetooth identification codes. Then, the app leverages Bluetooth device signal to estimate the physical social interactions out of devices close to the individual. The app stores the data with anonymous hashed ID history at each device for up to 28 days.

CDC also mentions that the app also protects people’s privacy. If the owner of a device with Taiwan Social Distancing App confirms to have infectious diseases, the individual can choose to share the anonymous hashed ID number. Therefore, the device ever physically close to the individual will get noticed without knowing who was confirmed and when was the interactions. It seeks to save other lives with the protection of privacy.

The pandemic certainly brings the dilemma between public health and privacy into practical reality. According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), during the pandemic, this struggle involves the imposition of extraordinary levels of government-mandated social distancing to protect public health. The government aims to reduce these constraints in the interest of individual liberty and economic renewal.

The same type of conflict exists between individual interests in health privacy and public health interests in the collection, use, and disclosure of health information. The COVID-19 pandemic uniquely presents these issues because it is the most deadly pandemic in more than a century. Moreover, new technologies allow an unprecedented level of information collection, aggregation, analysis, and dissemination.

In deciding whether to use certain health information technology in a pandemic, policymakers should analyse and apply the following criteria from public health ethics literature: (1) necessity and effectiveness, (2) proportionality and minimal infringement, (3) purpose limitations, and (4) justice.

Public health intervention should be introduced with clear evidence of its necessity and effectiveness. However, faced with a novel, lethal pathogen, clinicians have felt compelled to adopt measures without persuasive evidence, and public health officials have faced similar pressures.

Public health interventions should be proportional to the risk presented. In a pandemic, public health measures might have wide leeway, but not every public health information plan is necessary without significant intrusion. Data minimization seeks to limit the amount of data collected and used to the minimum necessary.

Data collected for a specific purpose should be used for only that purpose and should not be repurposed for other uses without the consent of the data sources or a compelling public justification. Purpose limitations may conflict with Big Data analytics and other health surveillance technologies based on machine learning and algorithms identifying associations from disparate data sets.

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