The Contact Tracing Fallacy

by | Apr 9, 2020 | ICT4D |

Contact tracing can be useful in tracking the spread of the virus in theory. But it tends to only be useful if everyone does it.

So what is the value of only partial tracking when we don’t know who and who doesn’t have the virus. We try to trace the people the sick have interacted with but we don’t know the status of all those people. Quite quickly the math of human interaction becomes impossible.

In this recent article on the NPR website, it states:

When there are many unknown transmission chains, or when communities don’t cooperate with public health efforts, the value of contact tracing really takes a dip, says Dhillon. And when there are many contacts who are geographically widespread — as is often the case in our globalized society — it can become impossible for contact tracing to keep pace with the epidemic.


Even IEEE has an interview article about the challenges and harms of tracing. There seems to be some potential benefits possible but with a lot of known harms. This begs the question, ‘why do it?’ This might just be a failure of the ‘tech for good’ movement which often fails to ask the fundamental ethical questions and just tries to use a flawed technology for some sort of benefit. Maybe it’s better not to try.

And unless we are willing to enter into a complete surveillance society where everyone is tracked all the time, are not our time, money, and efforts better spent on testing?

Photo by Matthew Henry


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