Coronavirus apps present promise however show a tricky sale

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In states with their own apps without push notifications, the numbers are much lower: around 5 percent in New York, less than 3 percent in Alabama, and around 1 percent in Wyoming. Virginia had the biggest hit, nearly 10 percent, after spending about $ 1.5 million on public awareness campaigns.

Jeff Stover, the executive adviser to the state health commissioner, said health officials have been promoting testing and the wearing of masks for months and that marketing apps for coronavirus exposure is also essential. Virginia has "done a good job of continually increasing the percentage of the population who care," he said. "We had to market to different walks of life who might have different reasons not to trust the government."

A pilot study in California found that traditional advertising may not be the most effective way to get people to use the technology. "By far the most effective messaging was texting your phone," said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, Chief Information Officer at the University of California at San Diego Health. The best text message, he said, told people the app could help them keep their family and friends safe.

From the beginning, privacy has been a major concern of the public. After years of surveillance scandals, people are reasonably skeptical of technology companies and the government, said Elissa Redmiles, a computer scientist who has researched attitudes towards Covid apps.

"They feel like everyone is taking their data all the time and they don't want to divulge any more data," she said, or they worry about authoritarianism and think, "I don't want to be monitored by the government." . ”

The focus on privacy has resulted in a kind of catch-22. The research of Dr. Redmiles shows that people want to ensure not only privacy but also the effectiveness of the technology before agreeing to use the apps in large numbers. However, privacy protection makes it difficult to capture the exact data that shows how well the apps are performing.

"If you can't see if it's effective, it's not very convincing," said Marc Zissman, a computer security researcher at the Lincoln Laboratory by M.I.T. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opened Dr. Zissman used it to find out how effective the exposure reporting system is.