Professor of Strategic Management, University of Toronto
For about a month now, the official government COVID alert app has been installed on my phone It is active and monitoring Every week I get a notification telling me that I have not had contact with anyone who has been tested positive for the coronavirus
First of all, I work from home and hardly leave the house But I do it every now and then to have my hair cut and do the grocery shopping
Second, even if one of the people I came in contact with was infected, I would only know if the app is installed or if it enters its positive result in its app
These two steps reduce the chances of the app doing its job In its first month there were only 22 million downloads and 90 infections As we face a second wave of COVID infections -19, how can we change this?
I work with many entrepreneurs as part of the Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto and we know it can be hard to get people to download an app They have to know It They have to remember to download it And they have to remember to configure it
Invariably what we try to do is get people who like an app to tell others to use the app as well. Sometimes these social referrals work on their own and in other cases there are incentives offered, such as a discount on services sold through the app
Ironically, to encourage people to download the COVID Alert app, we want to use viral processes as we try to contain an actual virus And, yes, that’s a challenge, because many of these downloads of apps are driven by people sharing thoughts when together – and most of us live in relative isolation at the moment
To install the COVID Alert app, so we need a push Apple and Google are taking small steps in that direction They will both have updates to the operating systems of smartphones that will allow people to » be alerted to exhibitions without an application installed But they will still need an official app if they want to report a COVID-19 infection
The fact that private companies are working there is good news The COVID Alert app was built from an open-source foundation provided by Shopify which anticipated the need long before the government Now we need these same companies to step in to make the app go viral
They have levers to do it Imagine a business with reward points – like credit cards, airlines, and supermarkets – offering bonus points to anyone who installs the app This might require some software, but this can also be done at point of sale or during the delivery of your meals, with humans verifying the installation of an app
Or maybe Apple or Google could offer incentives right in their app stores There may be privacy hurdles to overcome, but companies usually don’t hesitate to try and sell us products
To change coronavirus behavior, think like a marketer
We could go further by making it clear that installing the app is a socially valid act and like wearing a mask better for others than for us Can we make sure people benefit personally after installing the app?
One possibility could be to anticipate a situation where things could go the other way, as some have suggested for recovering plasma donations In this case, to encourage people who had already had COVID -19 to donate blood to help others fight the virus, economists have suggested giving them a voucher for their own family or friends to go to the frontline for treatment
If ever we were to have a COVID-19 vaccine, distribution could take months. Those who need it most will likely get it first, but the majority of us will have to wait
What if internet users could move up the queue based on the number of months they use the app? In other words, we can make app installs a way to ‘pay up’ and the return is we can get vaccinated earlier
If we can push app downloads to a majority of the population, it will make a difference Nonetheless, we will also have to worry about entering COVID-19 infections into the app In South Korea, where they have been so successful in containing the virus, these infections are automatically seized when a person tests positive
Canadian privacy laws don’t allow this But we can do better For example, we might at least have the option to do something other than self-report If a test is positive, the affected person can be invited to grab the result right away Alternatively, there might be a way to push that result to their application with their permission
Finding out you are COVID-19 positive probably won’t be a big time, and we can hardly expect people to think about reporting their diagnosis to the app first. But if we use nudging and other thrusts, we can overcome some of the friction
At the start of school, it’s even more critical The sooner we know the exhibits, the faster we can act and prevent things from getting out of hand Schoolchildren should have the app installed on their phones now, and they should be allowed to carry these phones around all day
Before taking these back to school photos and posting them on Facebook, parents should first make sure their kids have the app installed. As we head into a second wave, the rest of us should also install it immediately
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COVID Alert App
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