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New research from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business

New research from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business shows that contact-tracing apps can be effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19. But, the researchers also note the drawbacks of government surveillance.

The new paper, “Information Technology and the Pandemic: A Preliminary Multinational Analysis of the Impact of Mobile Tracking Technology on the COVID-19 Contagion Control,” was recently accepted for publication in the European Journal of Information Systems. Business Analytics Associate Professors Andrew Urbaczewski and Young Jin Lee conducted the study.

The two collected data on new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day from six different countries: China, Italy, Germany, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. Some countries, like Singapore and South Korea, launched mandatory contact-tracing via mobile apps about 15 days after their 100th confirmed case. Other countries—China, Germany, Italy and the U.S.—became the control group, since they do not mandate the use of mobile tracking apps.

Young Jin Lee

Young Jin Lee

“Having mandatory mobile tracking and monitoring of people who are or may be COVID-19-positive may reduce new cases per day by 3.3 on average, given everything else stays the same,” Lee says. “Although the impact may appear small, this will dramatically flatten the exponential growth of new cases if this policy can be launched in the early stage of an outbreak.”

Yet, the authors admit, while tracing is effective, there are other considerations at play including civil liberties, misidentification, privacy and the sharing and storing of sensitive information.

“We are a people that are under increasing surveillance by our authorities, and the pandemic has brought us to a crossroads of the privacy rights of the individual versus the public health needs of the society,” Urbaczewski says. “People need to be able to trust that their governments will not use this data in other ways that are not public health-related, but unfortunately, their governments have given them little reason to earn that trust in the 21st century.”

“Continued testing and refinement of peer-to-peer apps, along with the willingness of civil authorities to accept their use for public health protection, may be the key to striking this balance,” the authors say. “Before the next pandemic or wave of the current pandemic hits, this should continue to be explored.”

Associate Professor Andrew Urbaczewski

About the authors:
Young Jin Lee is an associate professor in the Department of Business Information and Analytics at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. His research interests span economic and marketing aspects of social media, mobile IT markets, piracy and digital rights management, and adoption and diffusion of IT innovations. Lee has published many papers in premier business journals such as ​Management Science and Journal of Management ​Information Systems. His research has won the best Information Systems paper published in ​Management Science from 2013­–2016.

Andrew Urbaczewski is an associate professor in the Department of Business Information and Analytics at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. His dissertation and early research examined electronic monitoring of internet usage by employers. His research has now expanded to sports analytics as well as information security education and electronic health record implementation. Urbaczewski has written over 30 articles published in premier refereed business journals such as Journal of Management Information Systems and European Journal of Information Systems.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.