Designing New York's Contact Tracing App

UX designers from Tech: NYC along with faculty from the Business and Engineering Schools discuss the ongoing development of the New York State contact tracing app.

Social Impact, Healthcare, Data & Business Analytics

According to its designers, the New York State contact tracing app currently under development should be user-friendly and allay public concerns about privacy, while also providing health officials with information about the spread of COVID-19 infections.

In a discussion co-hosted by Columbia Business and Engineering Schools, Fahd Arshad and Bonnie John, the UX specialists from Tech:NYC who are developing the app, reviewed the process they used to improve its design.

“Digital contact tracing is critical,” Arshad said. “We can use these mini-computers in our pockets to bridge that divide between what traditional contact tracing can and cannot do.”

The talk also included findings from a week-long research study conducted jointly by faculty from CBS, SEAS, and the Data Science Institute and by designers from Tech: NYC and the New York State Department of Health.

The panel, which included Eric Johnson, the Norman Eig Professor of Business and director of the Center for Decision Sciences, Noémie Elhadad, associate professor of Biomedical Informatics at the Data Science Institute, and Lydia Chilton, assistant professor of computer science at SEAS, discussed the study, which involved 184 affiliates of the Business and Engineering schools who were asked to download a prototype of the app. Some of the participants were given simulated cases of COVID-19 and asked to enter that information in the app.

The researchers found that 93 percent of participants would use the app if they received an alert that they had been exposed to COVID-19.

“That’s amazing,” Chilton said. “That’s what we want it to do.”

The research also noted that while 53 percent of participants did not have any concerns about downloading the app, 28 percent expressed concern about what the government would do with their health data, and 26 percent were worried about government access to their contact information.

Johnson’s research determined that survey participants who trust the CDC or those who have low trust in President Trump are more likely to download the app.

“These beliefs make a difference,” he said.

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