This MIT and Harvard-Built App Could Slow the Spread of Coronavirus

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01/04/2020

The team also included Google, Facebook, and Mayo Clinic workers, among others, who made it in their spare time.

Everyone installs an app, and anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus hits a button on the app — and then anyone who’s crossed paths with that person gets an alert. Sounds great in theory, but in practice there are tons of reasonable concerns, privacy and user adoption among them. And would it even work? Well, a super-squad of developers with backgrounds from MIT, Harvard, the Mayo Clinic, Google, and Facebook are trying to find out.

The app, which is available for free, and was developed by a team of 43 tech workers and academics in their spare time, is called Private Kit: Safe Paths and the beta can be downloaded now for iOS and Android.

Its developers claim to first and foremost address the privacy concerns of anyone using it by only sharing encrypted data culled by the app with a network that doesn’t have any kind of central node. No one entity holds all the users’ data. Instead, data transfer only occurs at the choice of the users, with individualized access given to, say, researchers (or someone trying to do contact tracing).

That still doesn’t solve the mitigating major issue of needing widespread adoption of the app, and they would need the backing of a massive health organization to help it. As Wired reports, the team behind Safe Paths have already sought the approval of the World Health Organization.

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