Brown professor developing contact-tracing app that promotes privacy

12 on 12: Vaccine 101

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A computer science professor at Brown University is among a group of international researchers developing a smartphone app that would allow users to trace their contacts without revealing any personal information.

Anna Lysyanskaya said the app, dubbed Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT), uses the Bluetooth signals that smartphones regularly exchange to track which devices come into close contact with one another.

The contact tracing tool would be utilized to track and slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Lysyanskaya said the app creates a series of numbers as a “pseudonym” for each individual, allowing the user to see if they’ve come into contact with an infected person through their pseudonym.

The pseudonyms, she said, are designed to protect a person’s identity and personal information without compromising their privacy.

“Counting on people’s memory is less than perfect, especially when you have a really busy life,” she said.

Another feature the app will have is automatically logging when a smartphone receives a call from a contact tracing collaborate. Lysyanskaya said this means if someone calls you for contact tracing purposes, the app will have already logged that call for you.

Lysyanskaya said that creating, designing and testing a smartphone app normally takes six months to a year to complete, but her team is working around the clock to have theirs ready for users by the summer.

Both Apple and Google announced last week that they would make contact tracing apps possible on their downloading platforms within a month.

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