Epidemiological technology excludes public health experts. This is why it needs to be changed.


Susan Landau, professor of cybersecurity and computer science at Tufts University, is Number of people, A book on how and why to build a contact tracking application.She also published an article paper science Last week it was argued that new technologies supporting public health should be thoroughly reviewed to discover that it may exacerbate the inequities and inequalities that already exist in society.

“The pandemic will not be the last time humanity has faced,” Landau wrote, calling on society to “use and build tools and support healthcare policies” to protect people’s rights, health and safety, and achieve greater healthcare fair.

For clarity, this interview has been compressed and edited.

Since the launch of the Covid app, what have we learned, especially about how they work in a different or better way?

The technicians who develop the application are very careful when making sure to talk to the epidemiologist. What they may not fully consider is that these apps will change who will receive notifications about possible exposure to the new crown virus.They will change delivery [public health] service. That was a conversation that didn’t happen.

For example, if I received an exposure notice last year, I would call my doctor and he would say, “I want you to be tested for the new coronavirus.” Maybe I will isolate myself in the bedroom and my husband will bring me food . Maybe I will not go to the supermarket. But other than that, it won’t change much for me. I don’t drive a bus. I am not a food service person. For these people, getting an exposure notice is really different. You need social services to help support them. This is what public health knows.

Susan Landau

Courtesy photo

In Switzerland, if you receive an exposure notice and the state says “Yes, you need to be quarantined”, they will ask, “What is your job? Can you work from home?” If you refuse, the cantonal government will provide some financial Support to stay at home. This is the establishment of a social infrastructure to support exposure notifications. Not in most places-for example, the United States.

Epidemiologists study how diseases spread.Public health [experts] Look at how we take care of people, they play different roles.

Are there other ways to design different applications? What would make them more useful?

I think it is definitely controversial to let 10% of applications actually collect locations and only use them for medical purposes to understand the spread of diseases. When I talk to epidemiologists in May and June of 2020, they will say, “But if I can’t be sure where it is spreading, I will lose what I need to know.” This is Google and Apple Governance issues.

Another question is how effective this is. This is related to the issue of equity. I live in a somewhat remote place, hundreds of feet away from my nearest house. I won’t get the Bluetooth signal from other people’s phones that would cause the notification to be exposed. If my bedroom is facing the bedroom of the apartment next door, if the person next door is sick, I may receive a lot of exposure notices-the signal can pass through the wooden wall.

Why has privacy become so important for designers of contact tracking applications?

The places you have been are really instructive because it shows things like who you sleep with or whether you go to a bar after get off work. It shows whether you go to church at 7 o’clock on Thursday, but you will not go to church at any other time. As a result, anonymous abstainers will meet in church at that time. For human rights workers and journalists, it is obvious that tracking who they have been with is very dangerous because it would reveal their source of information. But even for the rest of us, who we spend time with—closeness to people—is a very private matter.

“The end user is not an engineer… but your uncle. It’s your little sister and you want someone to understand how people use things.”

Other countries/regions use protocols that include more location tracking, such as Singapore.

Singapore said: “We will not use your data for other purposes.” Then they changed it, They use it for law enforcement purposes. This application was initially voluntary and now requires access to office buildings, schools, etc. The government has no choice but to let the government know who you spend time with.

I am curious about your views on some of the larger lessons of building public technology in a crisis.

I work in cyber security, and it took us a long time in this area to understand that there is a user on the other end, and that user is not an engineer in the Sun Microsystems or Google security group. It is your uncle who is your little sister and you want someone to understand how people use things. But this is not what a trained engineer does-it is what a public health worker or a social scientist does, and these people must be an integral part of the solution.


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