GAO identifies challenges with COVID-19 contact tracing applications – MeriTalk

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In a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the agency identified challenges with exposure notification applications that enable contact tracing for the spread of COVID-19.

According to the GAO, half of the U.S. states had COVID-19 exposure notification apps as of June 2021 and identified five app challenges. To address the challenges, GAO also listed four policy options.

“With the emergence and rapid global spread of COVID-19, smartphone applications have been developed to supplement manual contact tracing, which is a public health measure used to slow the spread of infectious diseases,” wrote the GAO.

The challenges that GAO has found include:

  • Measurement accuracy: technical limitations related to the measurement distance can lead to inaccurate exposure notifications;
  • Privacy and Security Concerns: Lack of public confidence in the protection of privacy due to a lack of independent privacy and security assessments and a lack of federal legal protections;
  • Adoption: States facing challenges that generate public interest in downloading and using applications;
  • Verification Code Delays: Challenges encountered in providing those who test positive for COVID-19 with a verification code to notify other close contacts of potential exposure using the app; and
  • Evidence of efficacy: limited data available to assess the efficacy of applications.

The four policy options developed by GAO to address these challenges include:

  1. Research and development to meet technical limitations;
  2. Introduce uniform privacy and security standards and practices for applications;
  3. Promote best practices for approaches to increase application adoption and measure application effectiveness; and
  4. Engage decision-makers to improve a national pandemic strategy and promote a coordinated approach to developing and deploying applications.

“Policy options identify possible actions by policy makers, which may include Congress, other elected officials, federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry,” GAO wrote.

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