The Digital Divide and COVID

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California has deployed a new COVID tool. The way it works is that your phone talks to others through blue tooth and will notify you if you were close to somebody with COVID. The process is seamless and painless, You will need an actual App if running this on an Android device, and you can activate it from settings on Apple. This is nice, because the more people who join the pool, the better it will be, and let us beat the virus.

All is well, I suppose, except that you need to have IOS running devices that have version 13.7 or above. Meaning an iPhone 6 will not be able to run it. Why? They do not go beyond 12 something. So if you have an older phone, you cannot participate in this program. Apparently, Google phones are not this finicky about versions.

This brings us straight into an issue that has affected all of us since the pandemic started. This is the digital divide. It’s not like people can usually go and buy a new device because we want to help our fellow Californians. Devices are expensive and can be out of reach for most people. Implementation of this program should have taken this into account.

Different versions of similar software have been deployed around the world. Some require QR codes, other use low energy blue tooth communications, which this is. All are meant to help us beat down the virus and keep people safe. You are encouraged to test if you are notified that you were near somebody who tested positive and all promise to keep your privacy. However, Californians who cannot afford new devices will be shut out of this system.

This will surely affect the quality of the data we all get since this works best when we have as many participants as possible. The people who have the least capacity to get new devices are precisely the same people who cannot afford the internet or devices for their children to attend remote school. They are the same people who are working in front-line jobs, where they need to know if anybody they interact with during the day is COVID positive.

Once again, we have another episode of the inequality that we have laid bare over the last year. We knew it existed, but now it is even more transparent. The tools are useful, but only as long as people can use them. It is not just people activating the tools in their phones or not. If people literally cannot, then it is a bunch of code that is just sitting in the cloud.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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