MIT researchers and experts from other institutions are developing a system called PACT that could help public health officials track and trace COVID-19 while preserving privacy, the school said in a statement. The system – PACT stands for “Private Automatic Contact Tracing” – relies on short-range Bluetooth signals emitted by smartphones; the signals represent random strings of numbers that nearby smartphones can receive and “remember.”
“If a person tests positive, they can upload the list of chirps their phone has put out in the past 14 days to a database,” said Kylie Foy, of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. “Other people can then scan the database to see if any of those chirps match the ones picked up by their phones. If there’s a match, a notification will inform that person that they may have been exposed to the virus, and will include information from public health authorities on next steps to take.”
The random chirps are designed to protect users’ privacy.
“I keep track of what I’ve broadcasted, and you keep track of what you’ve heard, and this will allow us to tell if someone was in close proximity to an infected person,” said Ron Rivest, MIT Institute Professor and principal investigator of the project. “But for these broadcasts, we’re using cryptographic techniques to generate random, rotating numbers that are not just anonymous, but pseudonymous, constantly changing their ‘ID,’ and that can’t be traced back to an individual.”
MIT said the prototype system works for both iOS and Android devices, and researchers are now working with hardware makers to try and roll it out. No release date has yet been announced.
Credit: Computer World