Public health and thick wallets
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - August 29, 2020 - 12:00am

The past months we’ve witnessed how the government addressed the situation we were in. Notably, in huge metropolises, it has been the “open and lockdown” strategy. That is opening the economy when the virus infection slows a bit then lock it down when it goes up again. 

Consequently, compared with other countries in Asia, we had the worst contraction in the second quarter this year. 

However, we may wonder why other countries have, in one way or another, cushioned the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to their respective economies. Well, the answer is very simple. Some of them are using apps that are so appropriate and effective.  Appropriate in the current situation we are in and are so effective in maximizing the current temporary solutions like physical distancing and contract tracing. 

Unlike us (who are so fond of “TikTok”), these countries are using contact tracing apps like the one developed by Hytch, Iterate Labs and Kinexon, among others. Commonly, these contract tracing apps, with the aim of knowing whether an individual has been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, markor track where he’dbeen and who he interacted with. 

Hytch, for one, is a card rewards app (Hytch Rewards). Originally, this app afforded users “access to a free carbon offset program to reduce personal and corporate carbon footprint in transportation.” To make it work, Hytch “partners with employers, brands and governments to provide cash rewards to commuters who choose low-emission forms of transport such as public transit, carpooling, cycling or walking.”

Today, Hytch “found a second use for its technology during the pandemic: tracking COVID-19 infections.” It is now partnering with companies “to pay employees for using the app to self-screen before they commute to work and for contract tracing in the event of an outbreak.”  Through this app, commuters were persuaded to go back into shared rides, or use buses and trains.”

Then there is Iterate Labs. This app’s main goal is to maximize workforce productivity.  Among others, it uses a wearable “beacon” to determine workforce motion and location. Then use this “to create a unique BioMotion Signature for each worker.” Then, finally, use it to improve worker’s output, quality, etc. 

Today, the same device or “beacon” is “worn by industrial workers and ensures employees stay a reasonable distance away from each other in a facility.”

KINEXON (a Germany-based company), on the other hand, “powers the internet of things with smart location and motion data.” Like Iterate Labs, its Kinexon ONE “is an innovative real time location and motion sensing solution.” It also “detects the condition and status of people, objects and workflows.” The core of the system though is the Kinexon CELL.  It is “a small and lightweight sensor that tracks the 3D position and orientation of people and objects with centimeter accuracy.”

Interestingly, Kinexon also developed sensors “to track athlete performance and applied its technology to contact tracing.” Notably, “the solution is currently in use at the NBA, alerting players when they get too close to one another off of the court.”

Remarkably, these apps, among other strong features that they have, make contract tracing easyand accurate.  This is a very good development as such capabilities will encourage company owners to open their factories again. Workers too will report back to work knowing that as they depart for work and in their workplace they will be well-informed should infections happen. 

We have good software developers in the country and, probably, they can also develop one with these features. There is a caveat though. If we develop something of these kinds, we must bear in mind that these apps are collecting sensitive and very private information.

Remember, we have the Data Privacy Act. So, some sectors might possibly raise some concerns.    

While it is true that Privacy Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro clarified, that the “law recognizes the guidelines set by DOH on contract tracing procedures that hospitals, LGUs, and contract tracers must follow”, it doesn’t talk about apps that can trace someone’s daily routines.

Hopefully though, we shall all put premium on public health and thick wallets.

foabalos@yahoo.com

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