Coronavirus

This App Protects Privacy While Tracing Covid-19 Infections

Stanford researcher Tina White and the new nonprofit Covid Watch are committed to protecting both individual rights and public health.

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One of the most promising ways to end the lockdowns that have been instituted due to the COVID-19 pandemic is for you to know if you've been exposed to the virus so you can either be tested or enter quarantine. And one of the most promising ways to know whether you've been exposed is through smartphone apps that will notify you automatically if you've had contact with infected people.

But these apps also pose serious questions about efficacy and privacy—will they work and, even more importantly, how do we make sure they don't become the pretext for authorities to trace our every step?

Tina White thinks she has a solution. She's a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Stanford, a self-described libertarian, and the head of a group called Covid Watch, a new nonprofit that released the first ever open-source protocol for a voluntary app that uses anonymous, decentralized data to give all of us more information about the disease that has shuttered the global economy.

In a wide-ranging conversation, White tells Nick Gillespie about Covid Watch's origins; why it insists on voluntary, open-source, and privacy-enhancing standards; and when we're likely to see the app in the real world.