Here’s a phone alert you wouldn’t want to miss: “You have likely been exposed.”
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There’s early evidence this anonymous smartphone technology works — but so far isn’t helping very many Americans. In August, I wrote about the first of these state-sponsored alerts, Virginia’s Covidwise app. In the three months since, only 488 people have used the state’s app to send alerts about a positive diagnosis to others.
The alerts use software built by Apple and Google into iPhones and Android devices to detect when people (or the phones they’re holding) get into close contact with each other. That might sound like a privacy invasion, but they figured out how to track encounters between people in a way that’s anonymous — and doesn’t store your location — by using the Bluetooth wireless technology in phones.
Exposure alerts worked for the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam. He and the first lady tested positive for the coronavirus in September, and because they had it working on their phones, staff members exposed to them got notified. And they’re picking up steam: In its first few weeks, Colorado’s system was activated by a million residents, or 17 percent of its population.