Digital Contact Tracing: Technologies, Shortcomings, and the Path Forward

Amee Trivedi and Deepak Vasisht


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology enthusiasts have pushed for digital contact tracing as a critical tool for breaking the COVID-19 transmission chains. Motivated by this push, many countries and companies have created apps that enable digital contact tracing with the goal to identify the chain of transmission from an infected individual to others and enable early quarantine. Digital contact tracing applications like AarogyaSetu in India, TraceTogether in Singapore, SwissCovid in Switzerland, and others have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times. Yet, this technology hasn’t seen the impact that we envisioned at the start of the pandemic. Some countries have rolled back their apps, while others have seen low adoption.

Therefore, it is prudent to ask what the technology landscape of contact-tracing looks like and what are the missing pieces. We attempt to undertake this task in this paper. We present a high-level review of technologies underlying digital contact tracing, a set of metrics that are important while evaluating different contact tracing technologies, and evaluate where the different technologies stand today on this set of metrics. Our hope is two-fold: (a) Future designers of contact tracing applications can use this review paper to understand the technology landscape, and (b) Researchers can identify and solve the missing pieces of this puzzle, so that we are ready to face the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic and any future pandemics. A majority of this discussion is focused on the ability to identify contact between individuals. The questions of ethics, privacy, and security of such contact tracing are briefly mentioned but not discussed in detail.

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