PKontact: An app for anonymous, real-time contact tracing
POSTED : April 27, 2020
BY : Raja Roy

With the recent release of the federal Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, you might have noticed the term “contact tracing” throughout. Like social distancing, we’ll become intimately familiar with its application over the next few months. Rapid contact tracing using mobile technologies is the next step in fighting COVID-19. As a leader in app development, PK has piloted its own contact tracing app called PKontact that can be used by companies and public health organizations around the world.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing has been an epidemiological tool long in use that involves identifying and monitoring individuals who’ve come in contact with an infectious disease. When it has been used in the past, contact tracing involved a lot of detective work through phone calls, interviews and follow-ups. It has been used effectively to curb the spread of emerging epidemics, such as Ebola and SARS.

Advanced mobile technology can now take what was once a time-intensive and manual investigative effort and automate that detective work. Contact tracing apps enable near real-time alerts on your phone when an individual has come in close proximity of someone infected with COVID-19. The exposed individual can then isolate themselves to prevent further spread of the disease.

Currently, there are 43 contact tracing apps in 23 countries, each experiencing varying degrees of success in battling COVID-19. The apps fall into one of two categories: centralized and decentralized. Centralized apps, like the ones used by China and South Korea, typically rely on GPS tracking and feed user data into a central server overseen by the government. A decentralized model, favored by European countries and the U.S., do not require the use of a single app and are structured to ensure the privacy of the user.

Of primary importance is user adoption, as the more downloads the higher likelihood an infected individual can be identified. It turns out many citizens are hesitant to share their private information with a government agency, which has kept adoption rates low for some centralized apps, such as Singapore’s. A decentralized system, like the software developer toolkit currently being built by Google and Apple, allows for greater privacy, because no single entity stores all the data, and it relies on Bluetooth instead of geolocation data for tracking interactions. Other apps using a decentralized model involving Bluetooth technology include Stanford University’s COVID Watch and MIT’s Safe Paths. This same approach underlies PK’s own contact tracing app.

What is PKontact?

PKontact: An app for anonymous, real-time contact tracing

The PKontact blueprint is an opt-in, privacy-first mobile app, based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to providepreemptive contagious disease risk alerts using a standardized, open-source protocol for a contact tracing solution. It leverages the APIs provided by mobile phone devices to create an anonymous and real-time tracking tool for identifying person-to-person disease transmission. The cutting-edge technology can be downloaded onto any operating system.

By utilizing the phone’s Bluetooth technology to share anonymous identifier beacons with other users’ phones within proximity, PKontact ensures private information, like geolocation, remains on the phone. Anonymous data is stored in the cloud and should an individual self-report through the app that he or she has been diagnosed with COVID-19, a push notification will appear on all phones who have been in contact with the infected person over the past 14 days.

Who can use PKontact?

PKontact was developed with the intention of using it on our corporate campuses. As of today, PK has successfully piloted a reference implementation. The results point towards its potential deployment for states, government and corporations.

According to the federal directives on reopening the U.S., employers will need to take on the responsibility to “develop and implement policies and procedures for workforce contact tracing.” As individual companies are being tasked to support contact tracing, an easy-to-use app that automates the process could help companies act now.

PKontact could also aid healthcare organizations to provide timely prevention advice to their members, reducing the risk of fatal infections, while also reducing the load on providers. By stopping virus transmission chains, PKontact helps “flatten the curve” and reduces the peak burden of a disease on the healthcare system.

At PK we’re committed to doing good just as much as we are to digital transformation. The PKontact app blends our sense of social responsibility and app development expertise. With a limited supply of developers capable of delivering a contact tracing app, PK is stepping in to fill that gap. Together, we believe we can help to reopen the country and prevent further outbreaks.

Contact us to find out more about PKontact.


About the Author

Raja RoyRaja Roy is vice president of technology at PK. As the experience engineering firm, PK works with world’s most customer-obsessed companies to create pioneering experiences and accelerate outcomes. Raja has nearly 20 years of experience leading technology strategy, initiatives and innovation for Fortune 500 brands.

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