Highlights from KNOW Identity Digital Forum: Contact Tracing & Identity’s Role in Reopening the Economy

August 20, 2020

Moderator: Principal at One World Identity, Cameron D’Ambrosi
Panelist: Evident Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, Nathan Rowe | Yoti Co-Founder & CEO, Robin Tombs

Q: How effective is digital contact tracing?

A: Contact tracing is not binary. The smartphone can and should play a role, but we see there being a wide variety of different approaches and needs as far as different use cases go. It’s a very different thing to be in an enterprise environment where you’re only entering a building to go to work, versus being in an environment where someone’s getting on a plane.

There will be some rare cases, where you’ll have enough coverage of contact tracing apps to make them effective. Utah was one of the early adopters of contact tracing technology, but they just haven’t gotten it to the point where it’s widely used, and people are worried about the privacy implications, which is why more are in the “no” camp than the “yes” camp.

Even if the technology is good, the net result will be ineffective because the adoption is poor. Society, as a whole, needs contact tracing, but if you’re managing the population, it’s got to be about putting in the right set of devices and the right protocols. Technology won’t magically solve this issue. We need to wrap procedures around it that will make it a lot more effective. The perspective is not whether contact tracing is good or bad –– it’s more about the application.

Q: How should companies be approaching contact tracing and health monitoring?

A: You have to view this more as risk mitigation – identifying that someone’s been infected and then understanding the risk to organization and mitigating that risk through contact tracing. With manufacturing, warehouses, and processing facilities being harder hit with this virus than others, there’s a natural need to put more robust protocols in place to identify and manage the risk, especially with how contagious the disease is, to stay ahead of it before you’re in a situation where you have to close the facility.

People are going to continue to figure out how to get back to work safely and effectively. Contact tracing is just one part of a series of procedures and technologies you have to put in place to manage risk. It’s important to think about these things more broadly – you need to know how to minimize impact, but also make sure you can detect exposure sooner than later, and it’s even more challenging because there is no playbook for this.

Q: What is the private sector’s role in bridging the gap where the government hasn’t been as proactive about technology solutions to support contact tracing?

A: When we look at the U.S., we see two key problems:

  1. We’ve taken a highly fragmented and disorganized approach. The current infection rate is so high right now that there’s an active debate as to how effective contact tracing can actually be. If you go back to the traditional “feet on the street” method that was used for previous pandemics, you have to start thinking about how many people you’d need to employ to make it effective.
  2. This, combined with challenges with testing and how quickly results can be turned around. This is what’s driving private enterprises and organizations to figure out contact tracing on their own.

Companies almost have to fend for themselves – they’re thinking “I can’t rely on public health and infrastructure to protect my employees, and I know I need to get them back in the office safely.” In our conversations with the customer base, we’re finding that they’re clearly concerned about this, they need a good way to manage it, and they need to know how to go about doing it themselves.

As far as government goes, companies that are doing contact tracing on their own may be concerned with OSHA and HIPAA laws and developing an HR policy that speaks to those, especially because it’s very sensitive data you’re handling – it’s health records and pre-existing medical conditions that you can’t normally ask for, but with the pandemic, you can. So the question becomes: “How do I combine this data with health monitoring, then assess my risk, and take action based on my employees’ evolving day-to-day risks.”

Q: How are the challenges of tying an attribute to an individual’s identity unique to COVID-19, and how are they similar to other challenges you’d be facing in non-pandemic times?

A: When we think about the whole process of associating attributes with an identity, you have to separate the concept of “I know someone is who they say they are” and “I know that these data points are associated with them.” The first way to do this is by doing some sort of identity proofing to tie the identity to a real known person, and then enrich that with additional data from other sources.

It’s a microcosm, and it’s not a different problem for COVID-19 at a structural level than it would be for any other program. The challenge with the pandemic, though, might be more about how you find that data and how easy it is to source. Healthcare data is not publicly available – you need the right relationships with the right healthcare providers to corroborate, but you have to do some amount of identity resolution.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and certainly in the U.S., with such a fragmentation of the healthcare system, there’ll be opportunities where you can get access to the healthcare information. If the level of confidence you have in the data is lower, you can still do identity resolution to make sure the data is associated with that individual, but you need to make sure you’re addressing the market. There could be different recommendations for who to go to for COVID testing, and we see that as a bit of a spectrum as well.

Q: What are some of the other technology challenges that are unique to COVID-19?

A: Communicating to people that this is being done for the safety of everyone around us. We’ve been talking to organizations about how they’re going to put the right motivations in place to implement Evident Health Status and contact tracing, and this is very similar to challenges with any and every identity technology out there –– if it’s hard to use or if it’s a burden, people will not adopt it.

The consumer education piece is so critical, and it’s something we’ve seen as the most important to driving adoption. There has to be good communication to the population who will adopt this technology to make sure they feel good about it and are motivated to actually do it. If it’s a questionnaire or a test where you have to wait for results, people have to understand that they’re doing it for the greater good and for the safety of those around you. It’s the same argument for why you should wear a mask… it’s not just for you, it’s also to protect others. The right mindset will make it easier to drive adoption.

We have conversations around identity technology, and we don’t emphasize enough the user experience that plays a huge role in that adoption. This is especially important now, when people are experiencing very high anxiety about their health and the health of their families that they traditionally haven’t had to think about on a daily basis, and going through a health monitoring process every day reminds them of that.

Q: How do you address peoples’ concerns around health monitoring and contact tracing and how do you tailor your communications to address a wide range of people with different levels of technical understanding?

A: Every business has a broad spectrum – there are the folks who are understandably paranoid about these practices, there are those who just don’t care and assume their privacy is already gone and that their data is already out there, and there are those that don’t think health monitoring and contact tracing are valuable.

We’ve created a number of different communications templates to span a wide audience and we help administrators introduce it in a drip campaign format – it’s similar to how a marketing outreach program would work. You get them warmed up to the concept and mention how deep you’ll go with collecting personal data, explain the benefits to them, the employer, their peers, and include information about their privacy.

On the privacy end, if there’s people who are very concerned about their privacy and personal data, we feel that’s important, and there are likely several tiers of data that have to be available depending on how savvy they are. If someone has a concern about it and doesn’t understand the technology, but they do understand finer points that are relatively sophisticated, you have to have the credibility to make them feel comfortable that you’re doing the right thing. The idea is to go deeper or more high-level, depending on the kind of person you’re talking to.

Q: Assuming we get a vaccine at some point and this ceases to be a true pandemic, could this serve as a catalyst for digital identity, or is it just a flash in the pan where businesses will fall back on old methods?

A: We see COVID as driving organizations that are lagging behind the curve with digital identity. They were not prepared to administer a fully remote workforce or onboard new customers digitally, which caused companies who weren’t as digital identity-forward as they thought or hoped to recognize that they were in a world of hurt when it came to adapting to the new landscape.

Traditionally, regulation and law has been slow to adopt technology, but right now, they don’t have the option, and it’s forced things to move forward. Look at the acceleration of telemedicine. Insurers would not pay for it, and now they have to. The regulations have been turned upside down.

You see a massive change in both consumer and employee expectation of what can be done, what’s possible, and maybe more so than anything else, that will drive progress. You’ll have some constituents who prefer older methods of doing business, but they don’t have data points to prove it’s any better, and that’ll drive any company to make digital identity advancements. There’s also this idea that we’ll just “go back” to the way it was before, but nobody can quantify the impact of this pandemic on our world.

In a few years, we’ll look back and be shocked that we used to do things a certain way before the world shifted. We won’t fully realize the impact of this change for some time, but I know it will be significant. The amount and the pace of change is going to be very exciting over the next few years, and COVID-19 has been a catalyst for it all… buckle up and get ready for the ride!

Click here to watch the full webinar recording. Click here to learn more about Evident’s Health Status App.

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