People Count: Contact Tracing Apps and Public Health

Susan Landau, Tufts University


Dr. Anthony Fauci ticked off the timeline: "First notice at the end of December, hit China in January, hit the rest of the world in February, March, April, May, early June." COVID spread like wildfire. This disease turned out to be Fauci's "worst nightmare."

Pandemics end because we shut down the infection source, eradicate it, or vaccinate against it. But if these techniques don't work, then we contact trace. For COVID-19, a disease that spreads presymptomically and respiratorily, contact-tracing apps seem to be an optimal way to harness technology in stopping spread.

Apps were launched in Singapore beginning in March 2020, privacy-protective apps made their appearance in Europe and the US beginning in June. In some locations, the apps are effectively required, but where they are not, adoption is low. What's going on? Are the apps efficacious? And if so, why aren't they being used?

Is this a security failure? A privacy failure? A usability issue? The next pandemic will be different from COVID-19. Now is the time to learn what medical and social interventions we should make.

Susan Landau, Tufts University

Susan Landau is Bridge Professor in Cyber Security and Policy at The Fletcher School and the School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science, Tufts University and Visiting Professor, Department of Computer Science, University College London. Landau's new book, People Count: Contact-Tracing Apps and Public Health (MIT Press), focuses on efficacy, equity, and privacy. Landau has written three books on encryption and wiretap policy: Listening In: Cybersecurity in an Insecure Age (Yale University Press, 2017), Surveillance or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies (MIT Press, 2011) and, with Whitfield Diffie, of Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption (MIT Press, rev. ed. 2007). Landau has testified before Congress, written for the Washington Post, Science, and Scientific American, and frequently appears on NPR and BBC. Landau has been a senior staff Privacy Analyst at Google, a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems, and a faculty member at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Wesleyan University. She received the 2008 Women of Vision Social Impact Award, was a 2010-2011 fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, was a 2012 Guggenheim fellow, was inducted into the Cybersecurity Hall of Fame in 2015 and into the Information System Security Association Hall of Fame in 2018. She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Computing Machinery.

@conference {274786,
author = {Susan Landau},
title = {People Count: Contact Tracing Apps and Public Health},
year = {2021},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,