As part of returning to normal life, with COVID-19 still with us, many governments plan to make sure we can track down sick people and immediately inform everyone who were in the near proximity to isolate. This is the near future exit strategy while we do not have a COVID-19 vaccine nor a cure. This is ‘THE MISSION”
The technology does exist (Just like the RADAR box that goes tick tick tick):
- We know people are carrying smartphones with GPS location service
- We can push notifications to people and let them know that they need to isolate.
All we need now is an app that connects the dots, ask people to install it and act accordingly. Right?
Well, let’s see one example of ‘Hamagen’ — a designated app created in Israel for their national health services, and analyse some user stories around it.
This is what Tal Berman, a radio morning show host (Eco 99 FM) had to say about his latest experience:
“This morning I got this push message: One proximity event detected. Place: The COVID-19 testing centre in Tel Aviv, Mar 25 8:45–8:55 am”. I wasn’t even at this centre, I just drove on the main road near it. I actually use this road daily, and don’t even visit the centre. I clicked ‘No, I wasn’t there’ (as it was one of the options). The language of the app is not very friendly, and I actually don’t know what happens now. Will it alert me each time I drive by an area which had a sick person in it? Obviously the testing areas would include many people that have COVID-19, but there are all in their cars anyhow — and even if I was there, I wouldn’t be in any engagement with a sick person. Why create this hysteria?
A day later, I have 15 repeating alerts about that same incident. I clicked ‘No, I was not there’, but the alerts keep coming back. I’m not sure what happens if I click ‘Yes”. Will it alert our health services, resulting me having to report an isolation even though I don’t need one? I’m truly confused.
A day after I had another ‘event’ alerted to me: The store where I usually do my food shopping it showing a “proximity alert’ for me yesterday, between 6am and 5pm. How can I react to this alert? Time frames are very wide. I think I’ll end up uninstalling the app. It creates too much friction in my daily life.”
Dana, my sister in law, has another story where the user journey around the technology failed:
“The push notifications in my smartphone are off by default” she says. “I was never prompted to change this setting when installing the app. It’s been two weeks since I installed it, and I went in today just out of curiosity. I actually found out an alert which was 7(!) days old, telling me that I was in the proximity of a person sick with COVID-19, when I was shopping for food in the supermarket. I now need to go into Isolation for 7 more days, but obviously this is far too late if I’m actually infected”
- They did not tailor the technology they had, to how people live their digital and non-digital lives:
- They did not take into account test centre locations which have sick people in them, but they are tested while in their own cars, and do not engage with others.
- They did not take into account a proper GPS/Time calculation so people passing by a near road for a short while, would not get flooded with push notifications and warnings.
- They did not make sure that alerts can only be sent when the time frame is reasonable. Sending an alert for a time frame of 6am-5pm is not very helpful.
- They have designed a system which floods the user with many alerts, and like ‘Crying wolf’ — leading to eventually ignoring what may be an important alert, or a desire to uninstall the app altogether.
- They do allow users with ‘Push notification off’ to install and ‘use’ the app, by that making it unknowingly useless for those users.
- They have used an ambiguous language, users are puzzled as to the outcome if they react “Yes” or “No” to an alert. This is not re-assuring, causing the users to be confused about what actually happens next time they get an alert. This does not build trust.