Ads reopen, but research shows contact tracing still isn’t working – here’s how to fix it


Contact tracing is essential to support public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than providing truthful information, it seems that many people lie when asked for their contact details. Australian police officers, for example, complained that people wrote the names “Donald Duck” and “Mickey Mouse” on contact tracing forms.

Governments must be able to fully trace citizens who have been exposed to COVID-19, and without the correct contact details it is impossible to do so. And it could potentially pose a serious threat to public safety when more restrictions are lifted and the third UK lockdown is properly ended.

Our new research examines people’s experiences with finding contracts and how to improve the system to keep everyone healthy and safe. We have done studies in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US. Initially, we interviewed 240 participants and found that most of them (74%) had encountered contact tracing in reception places. But that only 24% of them provided correct and complete information every time. About 68% chose their reluctance to cooperate because of their concerns about privacy.

Next, we interviewed participants to address their privacy concerns. And also found what would help customers cooperate better and have more confidence when their personal information is collected and stored. Finally, we conducted another survey with 365 participants to test our ideas.

Reassure about the necessary data

We found that one of the reasons that many people ended up giving out false information was that they didn’t feel entirely comfortable giving out their personal information, but still wanted to be polite. and helpful. Thus, by giving a false name, it allows them to meet the demand without causing problems or making a scene.

Our attendees also told us that if businesses showed how their contact details would actually be stored and gave a better idea of ​​their ability to handle contact tracing in a professional manner, they would feel more inclined to comply with the request. This makes a lot of sense because, of course, many people are afraid of data breaches and invasion of privacy. So they care about the company’s ability and professionalism to manage their information.

Our research shows that people are more likely to share their truthful information if they are confident in a company’s competence to manage their data. One thing people we spoke to mentioned was that companies make sure contact tracing worksheets are not misused (many women have reported being harassed after handing over their contact details) and cannot be seen by other customers.

Government support is essential

It’s also clear that contact tracing should not be outsourced to companies with unclear privacy rules. Instead, it should be supported by governments. We have found that if governments support contact tracing through strict data protection regulations and technology, people feel safe disclosing truthful information.

In this way, governments can play an important role in helping to encourage people to cooperate with contact tracing in reception places. And they can do it by requiring companies to follow strict data protection policies. Governments can also apply sanctions if companies do not follow the rules.

As the ads are set to reopen again, there is concern that the number of cases may start to rise.
Chaz Bharj / Shutterstock

The process must be standardized

Another thing that came back time and time again from our participants was the fact that companies have different contact tracing systems, which makes it difficult to have complete confidence in how each method works. This is then more likely to cause people to give false information to avoid engaging with each system.

Therefore, contact tracing should be a standardized process, regardless of the hospitality location people visit. For example, the Restaurant Association of New Zealand has taken the initiative to help restaurants and cafes perform standardized contact tracing. This has resulted in more cooperation from people as they know what to expect at each site.

Word of mouth helps

Research shows that people trust the words of others as “social proof” to guide their own behaviors. This is called the “ripple effect”. And in terms of contact tracing, that essentially means people will feel less skeptical about sharing their information when they have been told by others that contact tracing is important and safe.

That’s why governments and businesses should launch social media campaigns to encourage people to share their positive thoughts about contact tracing. With positive word of mouth, more and more people will accept contact tracing as a new social norm. And as a result, others will be more likely to follow in their footsteps and disclose truthful information.


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