I awoke this morning to a notification on my iPhone informing me that New York State’s COVID-19 exposure notifications had been turned off (see “A Tour of New York State’s COVID Alert NY App,” 2 October 2020). I never received a single notification about a possible exposure, which I suppose is good, and I had so completely forgotten about the joint Apple/Google system by October 2022 that I forgot to record my own positive test. An Apple consultant friend in Seattle told me today that he had received several notifications, but he is the first person I’ve spoken to who has seen any.
Although the privacy aspects of the Apple/Google system were seemingly well-thought-out (see “Apple and Google Partner for Privacy-Preserving COVID-19 Contact Tracing and Notification,” 10 April 2020, and “Former Apple Engineer: Here’s Why I Trust Apple’s COVID-19 Notification Proposal,” 11 May 2020), my understanding is that the system failed to attract sufficient users to make it effective. Many individuals didn’t want to know if they had been exposed because they couldn’t afford to quarantine, and distrust of tech giants, government, and science in general hurt adoption. I suspect we’ll never learn how many people signed up.
I was much more impressed with the NOVID approach (see “NOVID Provides COVID-19 Early Warning System,” 21 January 2021), which had the potential to let individuals assess their personal risk and could have been a valuable tool for mapping the spread of other infectious diseases. It also failed to attract enough users—only 14 people ever signed up in my ZIP code, and most were related to me.
It’s sad that a service like TikTok can amass over 1 billion users while so many people shy away from technologies that could have reduced the death toll of over 1.1 million people in the US and 6.9 million worldwide.