COVID-19 News

COVID-19 contact-tracing system seeks data-collection assistance

A collaborative effort led by MIT and Lincoln Laboratory is seeking assistance with rapid data collection for a smartphone-based system called Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT) that is capable of alerting users if they have been in close contact with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Rapid, accurate contact tracing has been deployed effectively to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in many countries, including China, South Korea, and Singapore. Different approaches have been applied in different countries; some require citizens to manually enter their contact and physical location information, whereas others require automatically tracking movement of citizens using law enforcement monitoring authorities.

The Importance of Privacy

In the United States, personal privacy is a bedrock value, and many individuals and organizations will be unwilling to trade privacy for public health. An automated approach that permits effective contact tracing while absolutely preserving privacy would make such a trade unnecessary. This is one of the central principles of PACT.

The PACT approach is designed to maintain the privacy of those who are COVID-19 positive and those wishing to know if they have crossed paths with an infected person. The PACT system uses inter-phone Bluetooth communications (including energy measurements) as a proxy for inter-person distance measurement. With applied cryptography, this system can be used to collect and maintain weeks of contact events that can later be enriched by infection notifications (as testing results become available over time) leading to more accurate exposure notifications to users.

A Call for Participation

A large-scale data collection campaign is needed to inform the development of Bluetooth RSSI (received signal strength indication) based proximity detectors. This includes instrumented measurements of inter-phone Bluetooth signals under a variety of conditions and environments to capture the variable nature of their RF (radio frequency) propagation effects. Robotics may be used to ensure measurements can be conducted safely and at scale.

The PACT team has begun coordinating with organizations interested in contributing to this data collection campaign and is looking to collaborate on automated measurement techniques and generation of data sets for shared analysis. If you are interested in learning more, please contact mviera@ll.mit.edu and pronchick@ll.mit.edu 

To learn more about PACT, please visit the website, watch the video, or read MIT's press release