uOttawa researchers launch COVID-19 Global Pandemic App Watch

Posted on Wednesday, October 7, 2020




The AI + Society Initiative at the University of Ottawa is proud to announce the launch of the Global Pandemic App Watch, a site tracking uptake of COVID-19 contact-tracing and exposure-notification apps around the world.


Contact-tracing and exposure-notification apps are a new technology rapidly developed and launched in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis. The development of such applications is placing governments, corporations, and citizens around the world into an ongoing ethical design experiment resulting in potentially life-saving outcomes but also potential risks. During the summer of 2020, design teams and technology corporations presented governments with a variety of technological solutions in the form of such apps. Government leaders and ordinary citizens have needed to make decisions about which options to endorse and how to govern their use.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as discussions swirled around the adoption of exposure notification or contact-tracing apps, Dr. Teresa Scassa, Dr. Jason Millar, and Dr. Kelly Bronson, and outstanding Scotiabank AI + Society Fellows, Tommy Friedlich and Ryan Mosoff, began to explore the privacy and socio-ethical implications related to the creation, adoption and deployment of these apps. As part of this research, they gathered data about contact-tracing and exposure-notification apps–and decision-making–around the world.

Today, to help inform the global conversation around apps, researchers are sharing some of their findings with the launch of Global Pandemic App Watch (GPAW) to provide a global look at the state of adoption of contact-tracing and exposure-notification apps. The website hosts three main maps; each focuses on different issues: app classification; uptake; voluntariness. There is also a series of detailed country pages providing additional information about contact-tracing and exposure-notification apps adopted in different countries.


Discover the Global Pandemic App Watch


The GPAW is a work in progress. The dataset which underlies this mapping exercise was informed not just by these selection criteria but also data availability. Uptake numbers are difficult to find and track. The primary source used to get a sense of uptake is through the number of downloads, which is only publicly reported by the Google Play store and in the media. In both cases, the values are generally imprecise and often do not account for user uninstallation. In this way, apps offer an interesting case study in knowledge mobilization in a time of crisis. App developers and governments need to determine the minimum amount of information to make publicly available regarding app uptake, use and efficacy; such information will influence research like this website but also everyday decisions about downloading and using apps. Considerations include the privacy-preserving aspects of the app, which have technical, legal, and socio-ethical dimensions.


The maps are only a part of a broader research project on the law, policy and socio-ethical aspects of technological response to the pandemic, but they reveal some interesting trends and are worth sharing.


You can also learn more about the project, some of the design considerations and research findings on Dr. Scassa’s blog.


This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Scotiabank Fund for the AI + Society Initiative at the University of Ottawa, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Canada Research Chairs program.


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