Coronavirus: 'Digital diary' contact tracing application useful as Kiwis hold own data - expert

Coronavirus: 'Digital diary' contact tracing application useful as Kiwis hold own data - expert
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Kiwis will be more confident to download a contact tracing 'digital diary' application knowing they are holding their data themselves, a computer science expert says.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that on Wednesday, Kiwis will be able to download what she is calling a "digital diary", which she says will allow people to log where they have been, helping with contact tracing, if that is necessary. 

Contact tracing is where officials locate and isolate the close contacts of people who are infected with COVID-19. This involves finding out where they have been and who they may have come into close contact with.

"This is around, really, what I would describe as a digital diary, helping users, when they’re out and about, keep a log of their own movements, for instance between cafes and restaurants," Ardern said.

"It is for you, it is on your device, and it is your data and your information. And I think that’s just really responding to some of the concerns that I’ve heard or seen."

One of those concerns is around privacy and whether businesses that take the person's data could use it to advertise to those customers via their email addresses.

Dave Parry, a computer sciences expert from Auckland University of Technology, says having people hold their own data is a good idea.

"There is a huge benefit to people recording where they have been. It is not sending information to the Government, they don't know where you have been. All they know is that this is the spot and they will send that information out to you," he said.

"Hopefully, people will be more confident because the data is just being held on their own device. For example, they aren't going to be marketed by the shop or whatever they are signing in on. It will be entirely about whether people take it seriously or not."

Contact tracing will be vital to New Zealand avoiding a second outbreak. By finding and isolating those who are potentially infected with the virus, we can stop them being out and about infecting others. Several models presented to the Government throughout lockdown stressed contact tracing's importance.

"This will mean that we can take a much more open attitude to having people meet and be together, but also be very confident that if there is another outbreak, we can deal with it very quickly given that we don't have a vaccine yet," said Parry.

New Zealand is currently at alert level 2, meaning that people can socialise and go back out into the community. However, social gatherings are limited to ten people. This will be reviewed in the coming weeks. 

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