In Hong Kong, a contact tracing app was launched known as “LeaveHomeSafe”. All citizens are required to scan QR codes when entering public spaces such as malls, restaurants, and government facilities. Anyone found not using the app could be fined. The purpose of the app was to trace everyone that had been at the same location with a potential COVID patient. However, there are many problems associated with the app.
First is the User Experience problem. The app was rather inconvenient to use. Users have to find a hard copy QR code whenever they enter a new location and physically scan it through the app. They are also expected to remember to log out and re-scan whenever they enter another location. This has caused huge inconveniences for people’s daily lives. For example, if you wanted to eat at a restaurant that is inside a mall after reading a book at the library, you are expected have to scan three separate QR codes! This could be improved through utilising other technologies. For example, geolocation and proximity based contact tracing, such that people in the general area could be identified instead of having people scan codes for each specific places.
Second is less about the app but more about the “people” side of health informatics. As emphasised, health informatics is not only about the technology but also about the people. While the Hong Kong government has the draconian policy of punishing anyone not using the app with a fine, not all elderly knows how to operate a smart phone and scan a QR code themselves. There are not enough guidance and education for the elderly to teach them how to use the app, and no exceptions or alternatives to the system if the users do not know how to use the system to begin with. It is therefore important that we remember the “people” element of informatics, offering more guidance and make sure that the system we implement could accommodate people with different age range and characteristics.
Third is the problem of privacy. Even though the app uses the very traditional way of scanning QR codes, the app asks for the user’s permission to all sorts of unrelated things on their phones, such as contacts. This has built a source of distrust within the general public as to why the app would require so much permission for unrelated things, and thus many people are reluctant to use the app. To solve this, we must ensure the privacy and security of the users to relief their concerns, with the app asking for the minimal necessary amount of data. An even better approach would be to store user’s location offline locally on the phone and download the data of the new cases. The users would only be alerted if there is a match. Users would then be more ensured that there is no suspicious upload of their personal data.