- A new app developed by Louisiana State University – Geoxtrace – can notify people of close COVID contacts
- Contact tracing app uses Bluetooth technology built into cell phones to determine the proximity of close contacts
- The app will count any person within six feet of a COVID positive person as a close contact for 15 minutes
- It joins a growing number of contact tracing apps developed during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Some experts fear that the app has some privacy issues and that people may use it maliciously to report false COVID contacts.
A new app could turn a cell phone into a COVID-19 contact tracing device that can inform a person if they have recently been near an infected person.
GeauxTrace was developed by a research team from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.
The app uses Bluetooth capabilities built-in to cellphones and other devices to track close contacts.
If a person reports a positive COVID test in the app, it will notify everyone as a close contact so that they can get tested or quarantined.
The app considers any person as ‘close contact’ who was within six feet of a COVID positive person for at least 15 minutes.
‘GeauxTrace’ is a new contact tracing app developed by an LSU professor. The app uses Bluetooth technology to trace close contacts and notify a person when they should be quarantined or tested due to exposure to the virus
The GeauxTrace contact tracing app uses the signal strength from Bluetooth software available on most cellphones and computers to estimate the distance between cellphones.
Users who were recently around someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are notified of the potential risk.
Google, Apple and other tech companies have created similar cellphone-based tracing applications.
The app was developed using $890,000 in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Lu Peng, professor of computer science at LSU, told advocate That they started development of the app in January.
“We are trying to make some contribution to the community,” Peng said.
The app recently completed testing among volunteers to make sure it’s working properly.
Each user of GeauxTrace is assigned a random number that is not tied to their cellphone number.
Random numbers are broadcast in the background to create a virtual map.
This internal, electronic map doesn’t show the actual location of one’s cellphone, but the relative distance between cellphones using the application as well.
After a positive test is reported, people nearby are informed through the app that they were in contact with someone who tested positive, without knowing who or where.
Peng said the data is encrypted and spread between multiple servers to avoid the risk of hackers tapping into a single machine and stealing health information.
A privacy advocate suggested that the application needed more protection.
John Callas, director of technology projects for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the application relies on self-reporting by users to propagate a positive test.
This opens up the possibility of malicious self-reporting to create fear or to find out about other people.
Kailas also said that the app could be secure if its random identification number changes frequently, and if the data is stored on individual phones rather than just on servers.
However, Peng did respond to some of these concerns.
He said that because the app doesn’t actually record a person’s location, just their proximity to others, it’s unlikely that the data will be stored.