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Most Americans are not willing or able to use an app tracking coronavirus infections. That’s a problem for Big Tech’s

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The two tech giants are working with public health authorities and university researchers to produce a set of tools that apps could use to notify users who had come in close contact with a person who tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The initiative has been portrayed as a way to enhance traditional forms of contact tracing to find potential new infections and help make resumption of economic and social activities safer in the months ahead.But the effort faces several major barriers, including that approximately 1 in 6 Americans do not have smartphones, which would be necessary for running any apps produced by the initiative. Rates of smartphone ownership are much lower among seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of covid-19, with just over half of those aged 65 or older saying that they have a smartphone (53 percent). Rates are even lower for those 75 and older, according to the Post-U. Md. poll.Among the 82 percent of Americans who do have smartphones, willingness to use an infection-tracing app is split evenly, with 50 percent saying they definitely or probably would use such an app and an equal percentage saying they probably or definitely would not. Willingness runs highest among Democrats and people reporting they are worried about a covid-19 infection making them seriously ill. Resistance is higher among Republicans and people reporting a lower level of personal worry about getting the virus.Despite reservations about the technology, 59 percent of smartphone users said they would “be comfortable” using such an app, if they tested positive for covid-19, to anonymously alert others that they may have been exposed and should seek testing.A major source of skepticism about the infection-tracing apps is distrust of Google, Apple and tech companies generally, with a majority expressing doubts about whether they would protect the privacy of health data. A 57 percent majority of smartphone users report having a “great deal” or a “good amount” of trust in public health agencies, and 56 percent trust universities. That compares with 47 percent who trust health insurance companies and 43 percent who trust tech companies like Google and Apple.“I don’t feel like they have a good track record of taking care of people’s privacy and data. And I don’t want to give them more if I don’t trust them,” said Brent Weight, 43, a Republican-leaning independent voter who runs a small trucking company in Rigby, Idaho. “Seems like every other day you’re hearing of a data breach in a big company, and they’re losing credit card information and everything else. For them to just tell us it’s going to be safe and anonymized, I’m not going to take them at face value.”Among Americans overall, 41 percent say they both have a smartphone and are willing to use an infection-tracking app, the poll finds. Oxford University researchers have suggested that 60 percent of a country’s population would need to use a coronavirus-tracking app like this to stop the viral spread. Reduced adoption could
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