In a survey of more than 8,000 Irish adults, 82pc said they were willing to download a contact-tracing app ‘for the greater good’.
New research carried out by a team from the Science Foundation Ireland software research centre Lero, the University of Limerick (UL) and NUI Galway has found a significant willingness from the public to download a national contact-tracing app.
A total of 8,088 responses were recorded after a week-long call for participants, beginning on 22 May, across social media platforms, university emailing lists and mainstream media channels.
It found that 82pc of respondents said they were willing to download an app on their phone to help curb the Covid-19 pandemic. A separate study published in May found that 84pc of respondents to a survey in Ireland said they would consider downloading a contact-tracing app.
Nearly all (98pc) of respondents to this latest survey said they were aware of the concept of contact tracing, with 51pc saying they would “definitely install” an app if it becomes available, 31pc saying they “probably will install” an app and 10pc saying they “may or may not install” an app.
However, respondents also expressed privacy concerns, including that the Government, tech firms or hackers might use the information gathered for other purposes after the pandemic.
The majority of respondents said they would prefer an app that uses Bluetooth technology, with only 31pc saying they would prefer an app that uses geolocation technology.
In terms of privacy, 41pc said they were worried technology companies would “use this as an excuse for greater surveillance”, 33pc said they were worried governments would do the same and 22pc feared downloading such an app would make them vulnerable to hackers.
Dr Michael O’Callaghan, a researcher at the UL School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors, said: “It is important, therefore, that those particular concerns be addressed if we are to ensure the greatest possible adoption of this technology.
“Clear timelines on when this app would be wound down and how Bluetooth technology will allow information to be exchanged between phones are important messages that need to be communicated widely.”
Prof Liam Glynn, also of UL, stressed that getting people to download an app and to actually use it are two separate challenges.
“It may be beneficial to keep the public informed on key data relating to the app, including downloads, active users and numbers of cases where the app has helped contact tracing efforts etc,” he said.
“People have indicated a clear willingness to help, but experience from other countries shows that intent to download does not always translate into actually downloading and using contact tracing apps. Allowing the general public to see in real time the public health benefits of this app may help maintain public interest.”
Despite previous expectations that a pilot Irish contact-tracing app would be ready by the end of May, there is no date for when a full public release will happen. The app, which is being developed by Waterford-based company Nearform, is believed to be using Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification API.
Apps that use the Exposure Notification API will not track a user’s location or gather personal information, but will identify when one person comes in close contact with another on a given day based off Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ from their devices.
According to Lero’s Dr Jim Buckley, this use of technology was on the minds of the recent survey’s respondents.
“Concerns regarding battery life and Bluetooth led some respondents to suggest that a means to automatically enabling Bluetooth when users leaves their home or workplace should be integrated into the app,” he said.
Buckley added that the primary driver for people’s willingness to download a national contact-tracing app during the current crisis is a desire to help others and “for the greater good”.
However, a recent study published by researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has called into question the effectiveness of Apple and Google’s API, particularly how Bluetooth connections are made on public transport.
Speaking of their findings, Prof Doug Leith of the TCD School of Computer Science said: “We found that the radio environment inside a bus is highly complicated, presumably due to all the metal which reflects the radio waves.
“As a result, the signal strength can be higher between phones that are far apart than phones close together, making reliable proximity detection based on signal strength hard or perhaps even impossible.”