The vast majority of Irish adults are willing to download a contact tracing app to their smartphone to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study.
Researchers from Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, University of Limerick, and National University of Ireland Galway found that 82% of adults are willing to download such an app.
However, people also expressed several privacy concerns, including that the Government, tech firms or hackers might use the information gathered for other purposes after the pandemic.
In the survey, A National Survey Of Attitudes To Covid-19 Digital Contact Tracing In The Republic Of Ireland, 98% of the more than 8,000 respondents said they understood the concept of contact tracing and 96% stated that informing the HSE about close contacts is important if someone develops symptoms.
Dr Jim Buckley, of Lero, said the response was “very heartening” considering that researchers from the University of Oxford estimated that, if 56% of people were to download an ideal contact tracing app in the UK, that would be enough to control the disease by itself.
He said the primary driver for people’s willingness to download a public health-backed contact tracing app during the current crisis is a desire to help others and “for the greater good”.
However, he noted: “Studies in other jurisdictions have suggested that the actual adoption rate typically lags behind the take-up rate suggested by surveys performed in advance of contact-tracing apps’ launches.”
Dr Buckley said there is no room for complacency, and eliminating the disease “requires a high degree of participation from the public and evidence-based app development”.
The research also showed that 51% of respondents indicated they “definitely will install” the app if it becomes available, and 31% indicated they “probably will install” it.
Ten percent said they “may or may not install” the app.
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 widelyDr Michael O'Callaghan
People preferred the idea of a Bluetooth app, with just 31% saying they would prefer one that uses geolocation technology.
One of the survey authors, Dr Michael O’Callaghan, said the results offer a good insight into people’s concerns relating to a contact tracing app.
“Forty-one percent of respondents could see no reason not to install the app. The remaining 59% of respondents selected at least one option from a list of 10 options,” he said.
“‘I worry technology companies will use this as an excuse for greater surveillance after the pandemic’ was selected by 41% of these, ‘I worry the Government would use this as an excuse for greater surveillance after the pandemic’ was chosen by 33%, ‘I worry that my phone would be more likely to get hacked’ was selected by 1,742 (22%) of respondents.”
Dr O’Callaghan said it is important, therefore, that those particular concerns be addressed in order to ensure the greatest possible adoption of the 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,” he added.
Dr O’Callaghan said that, while international evidence suggests that contact tracing apps are best employed as complementary to a manual tracing process, this study indicates that a significant majority of the general public in Ireland are currently willing to download an app which aims to help the contact tracing process.