Toward improving EN adoption: Bridging the gap between stated intention and actual use
June 3, 2022
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe in the spring of 2020, technologists looked to enlist technology to assist public health authorities (PHAs) and help stem the tide of infections. As part of this technology push, experts in health care, cryptography, and other related fields developed the Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT) protocol and related projects to assist the public health objective of slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 through digital contact tracing. The joint Google and Apple deployed protocol (Google-Apple Exposure Notifications, also known as GAEN or EN), which became the de facto standard in the U.S., employs the same features as detailed by PACT. The protocol leverages smartphone Bluetooth communications to alert users of potential contact with those carrying the COVID-19 virus in a way that preserves the privacy of both the known-infected individual, and the users receiving the alert. Contact tracing and subsequent personal precautions are more effective at reducing disease spread when more of the population participates, but there are known difficulties with the adoption of novel technology. In order to help the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. state-level public health teams address these difficulties, a team of staff from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory (MIT LL) and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) focused on studying user perception and information needs.