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BIOS, anonymous contact tracing app for Covid-19

  • Published at 12:35 pm June 18th, 2020
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BIOS runs contact tracing without recording personal data, which other apps developed by Apple and Google cannot do

As the world still continues to struggle with containing Covid-19 transmission, a North American company has developed a mobile phone application that will trace contacts with potential positive cases anonymously.

Biokinetic Interactivity Observation System, or BIOS, developed by Micron Digital Corp, a Toronto and New York-based geospatial company, runs contact tracing without recording or using personal data, according to a press statement. 

This is what sets BIOS apart from other contact tracing apps, including those developed by tech giants like Apple and Google, the statement said. 

The technology that Apple and Google jointly developed for contact tracing created much excitement among public health officials in the US, the worst Covid-19-hit country in the world, in May. 

But as the details of the app came out, the US officials said it would be of little use. The Apple-Google tech would notify smartphone users if they came into contact with a potentially Covid-19 infected person, but due to the strict rules imposed by both the companies, the app would not share any data with the health officials or the potential places of contact, reported Washington Post. 

BIOS, on the other hand, eliminates the privacy issues and provides the necessary data to the government officials in order to trace Covid-19 transmission, Micron said. 

“We knew we had to get the privacy element correct,” said Rohit Seth, chief technology officer (CTO) of BIOS. “We may have actually overdone it. But we wanted to eliminate any concerns about anonymity and encryption.” 

Without a vaccine, only testing and tracing can curb Covid-19 by isolating the sick. In the absence of testing and tracing, everyone has to be isolated, which is detrimental for any economy. 

In a densely populated country like Bangladesh, where ensuring social distancing has proven to be extremely difficult, the importance of contact tracing cannot be overstated. 

Contact tracing is not all BIOS can do. It is also designed to anticipate areas of outbreak before they happen. For example, if the app is in use in Dhaka, a general measure of crowding would be sent immediately to health officials, and private alerts to those in the crowd. The app evaluates adherence to social distancing, among other things, according to the press statement. 

How does BIOS work?

“The BIOS app has three main purposes,” said Naser Azad, a Bangladeshi who is the managing partner of Toronto-based Ivory Business Solutions – the marketing and outreach partner of Micron. 

At first, BIOS identifies those at risk of getting Covid-19 by pinpointing location on a mobile device, and then indicating if people are standing too close together, and the duration of said gathering.

It assesses the severity of the risk and sends anonymous data to public health officials. The officials can then use the data through the app control panel or a “dashboard.” 

“In other words, the app shows areas where people are not following the rules of social distancing,” Naser said. “If proper protocols break down, a response can be initiated within seconds.” 

The second purpose of the app is providing a health questionnaire to the users, according to the statement. The questionnaire contains a set of general questions with drop-down menus of possible answers. 

“The government and public health officials may launch information campaigns for social distancing, based on the results. Yet there is no personal data recorded in that,” Naser said. 

“Those observing regional statistics will see at once when the anonymous answers start shifting toward illness or symptoms. They can identify at-risk zones before cases begin in earnest. The velocity of prevention is increased. The questionnaires and tracing constitute an early warning system,” he added. 

The third use is for people identified by a doctor as being Covid-19 positive.

“Then, if someone goes to the doctor and tests positive, a pseudo ID is entered into the system, and your anonymous geo-tokens are used to inform people with the same geo-tokens that they have been in close proximity to an infected person. Everyone’s anonymity remains intact throughout,” Naser added. 

Anyone who comes into close contact with a Covid-19 positive person can be notified of that exposure through the app and given further instructions, he further said. 

The BIOS app does not rely solely on Bluetooth or GPS. It uses seven location sources to eliminate error and get to one or two metres of accuracy, the statement said. 

One of those methods lets the person with BIOS perform anonymous distancing even when others do not have the app installed. In a dense area such as Dhaka city, only 10-20% of the population needs to have the app for it to work effectively. 

Naser said: “The accuracy available with the BIOS app helps eliminate false positives and clean up the data. This permits the creation of realistic models for forecasting.”

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