New COVID-19 contact tracing app will let people know if they’ve been exposed to the virus using Bluetooth
- A new app developed by Louisiana State University – GeauxTrace – can notify people of close Covid contacts
- Contact tracing app uses Bluetooth technology built into cell phones to determine the proximity of close contacts
- The app will count anyone within six feet of a Covid-positive person for 15 minutes as a close contact
- It joins the growing number of contact tracing apps that have been developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Some experts fear the app has privacy issues and people could even use it maliciously to report fake Covid contacts
A new app could turn a cellphone into a COVID-19 contact tracing device that can let someone know if they’ve recently been in close proximity to an infected person.
GeauxTrace was developed by a research team from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.
The app uses built-in Bluetooth capabilities in cell phones and other devices to track nearby contacts.
If someone were to report a positive Covid test in the app, they will then notify everyone considered a close contact so they can get tested or self-quarantine.
The app considers a “close contact” to be anyone who was within six feet of a Covid-positive person for at least 15 minutes.
‘GeauxTrace’ is a new contact tracing app developed by an LSU professor. The app uses Bluetooth technology to detect close contacts and notify someone when they need to quarantine or get tested due to exposure to the virus
The GeauxTrace contact tracing app uses the signal strength of Bluetooth software available on most cell phones and computers to gauge the distance between cell phones.
Users who were near someone who recently tested positive for COVID-19 are notified of the possible exposure.
Google, Apple and other tech companies have created similar cellphone-based tracking apps.
The app was developed with $890,000 in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Lu Peng, a computer science professor at LSU, told The Advocate that he began development of the app in January.
“We try to make a contribution to the community,” Peng said.
The app recently completed testing with volunteers to make sure it worked properly.
Each GeauxTrace user is assigned a random number that is not linked to their mobile phone number.
The random number is broadcast in the background to create a virtual card.
This internal electronic map does not show the actual location of someone’s cell phone, but the relative distances between cell phones also using the app.
When a positive test is reported, people nearby are notified via the app that they have been in contact with someone who tested positive without knowing who or where.
Data is encrypted and spread across multiple servers to avoid the risk of hackers accessing a single machine and stealing health information, Peng said.
A privacy advocate suggested the app needed more protections.
Jon Callas, director of technology projects for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noted that the app relies on user self-reporting to publicize a positive test.
This leaves open the possibility of malicious self-reporting to create fears or find out about other people.
Callas also said the app could be more secure if its random ID numbers changed repeatedly and the data was stored on individual phones instead of just servers.
Peng, however, addressed some of these concerns.
He said that because the app does not actually log a person’s location, only their proximity to others, it is unlikely to store any data.