Is Contact Tracing a Public or Private Concern?

Charles Towers-Clark
4 min readAug 24, 2020
Public health contact tracing apps are ambitious and already fraught with difficulties. Wearable Sensors and private contract tracing programs maybe a better solution to reaching the crucial 60% threshold for these initiatives to be effective. NEWLAB

Technology will play a huge role in the post-Covid-19 world, especially if we are to return to normality as quickly as some hope. Contact tracing and social distancing apps are already rushing to market, with many being touted as the most comprehensive solution to keep people safe, and many failing to live up to the hype after hasty rollout.

But at the same time as public entities scramble to try and put something forward, private companies are developing smaller-scale solutions that may overcome many of the inherent problems associated with public contact tracing initiatives.

Could transforming the workplace into a digital hub of monitoring and tracing fill in the gaps of public contact tracing apps?

The privacy problem

Developing a lifesaving app quickly, effectively and securely is just as difficult as it sounds — when you factor in a public health pandemic and need to immediately roll out at scale, it starts to get very complicated indeed. The problem with public contact tracing initiatives are numerous: the scale of the user base is too large and the data too sensitive, there can be little collaboration between parties, and even with a common foundation to work from (such as Apple and Google’s open API system) the people in charge of the actual operation of the app are not equipped to handle the task. “As these digital contact tracing apps launch, there’s a lot of fragmentation — many have significant limitations like always having the app in the foreground, and that’s not realistic in day-to-day use,” says Jason Cottrell, CEO of software studio Myplanet. “Further than that, some [public contact tracing apps] are violating certain principles about data privacy, mixing health and personal data in ways they shouldn’t be, and this is very concerning,” Cottrell continues.

While Cottrell argues that “Apple and Google’s program solves a lot of things, it’s set up where it’s very protective of personal info,” and that on the public side their system is “the only one that we believe will reach that crucial 60% threshold,” there remain significant limitations. “What [Apple and Google] are not doing is building the end apps for public health authorities (PHAs)… Many public health authorities do not have the ability to create [vital

Charles Towers-Clark

Becoming an expert on initiative and proactiveness in organisations. Author of "The W.E.I.R.D. CEO", Forbes contributor, ex-Chairman of Pod Group.