Early on in this pandemic, I co-authored a post with ADNET Technologies’ Christopher Luise regarding the possibility of digital contact tracing for COVID-19.  I recapped it in a post here as well. 

That possibility is now a reality in Connecticut with the state turning “on” the COVID-19 exposure notification system.

First an explanation. As Christopher said:

Digital contact tracing is one of these emerging technologies, using mobile devices ,data management, automation and analytics.  A little primer on this technology; imagine having your mobile phone notify you that you have come in contact with someone that tested positive for COVID-19. The technology that will be rolling out in the next release of Apple iOS and Android Operating systems will do just that. This is an automated way to perform what is being referred to as “Contact Tracing.”

The new app that has been released in Connecticut (and in other states to be clear), accomplishes this very possibility.  As noted by a press release:

COVID Alert CT is a voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app. You will get an alert if you were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Knowing about a potential exposure allows you to self-quarantine immediately, get tested, and reduce the potential exposure risk to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others.

The only caveat is that you have to affirmatively turn this option (or app) on your phone to the “on” position.  And suffice to say that an app like this works best when more people use it.

The use of this technology in the workplace is quite promising though could lead to potential abuse if employers are not careful. As I noted back in May:

Employers may jump at the chance to turn this technology “on” in the workplace. Imagine that employers can quickly and easily find out who Employee X has been near during the last several days. Employers could then isolate those individuals more easily than having to shut down a department for fear of exposure.

But such technology raises important privacy and employment concerns covered – in direct and indirect ways – by existing laws. For example, Connecticut has an electronic monitoring law that requires that employers provide notice to employees on the methods it is using to track employees. California is in the midst of rolling out a fairly broad data privacy law that requires that employers take great care with the information it collects and obtain consent where possible.

And then think of the scenario where the employer uses the contact tracing data to find out that Employee X has been talking to other employees about safety concerns in the workplace and the need to unionize. The employer might then be in violation of labor laws by retaliating against the employees.

We haven’t even begun to think of all the real workplace usages for this but still it is another tool for employers to consider in trying to control the spread of COVID-19. Employers that allow employees to bring their own devices to work may want to consider having this option turned on for employees.

However, as with any new technology, also consider talking to a lawyer about how your firm may use any such data or how it may monitor it so you don’t run afoul of existing data privacy laws.

Digitial contact tracing is another one of those “only in 2020” developments we couldn’t have foreseen a year ago.  Whether it lives up to its promise, remains to be seen.

For more on the technology aspect of this, see this great explainer post by Tim Weber at ADNET as well.