In a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the agency identified challenges related to exposure notification applications that allow for contact tracing for the spread of COVID-19.

According to GAO, half of U.S. states have COVID-19 exposure notification apps as of June 2021 and identified five challenges related to the apps. To address the challenges, GAO also listed four policy options.

“With the emergence and rapid global spread of COVID-19, smartphone apps have been developed to supplement manual contact tracing, which is a public health measure used to slow the spread of infectious disease,” wrote GAO.

The challenges that GAO found include:

  • Accuracy of measurements: technical limitations with measuring distance can result in inaccurate exposure notifications;
  • Privacy and security concerns: a lack of public confidence in privacy being protected due to a lack of independent privacy and security assessments and a lack of Federal legal protections;
  • Adoption: States facing challenges attracting public interest in downloading and using the apps;
  • Verification code delays: challenges being faced in providing people who test positive for COVID-19 with a verification code to notify other close contacts of potential exposure using the app; and
  • Evidence of effectiveness: limited data available to evaluate the effectiveness of the apps.

The four policy options that GAO developed to address these challenges include:

  1. Research and development to address technical limitations;
  2. Introduce uniform privacy and security standards and practices for the apps;
  3. Promote best practices for approaches to increasing app adoption and to measure the effectiveness of the apps; and
  4. Have policymakers collaborate on enhancing a national pandemic strategy and promoting a coordinated approach to developing and deploying the apps.

“The policy options identify possible actions by policymakers, which may include Congress, other elected officials, Federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry,” GAO wrote.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.