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This app could tell you if you crossed paths with someone who has coronavirus

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new app that could theoretically tell you if you crossed paths with someone who has the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. 

The app is called Private Kit: Safe Paths and is a free, open-source app that shares location data between people’s phones to let them know if they have come in contact with someone who has the coronavirus.  

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People who have tested positive for the virus can share that information within the app, as well as choose to share with health officials who could then make it public. The app would send users notifications on which locations have had a confirmed coronavirus case. 

Ramesh Raskar, an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, said that the app could allow specific locations to be closed off rather than shutting down entire areas or cities as we have so far seen. This approach is meant to ease the social and economic disruption the coronavirus has put on U.S. communities.

Raskar said that the app would only be effective if people actually use it, however. You can download the prototype version of the app on Android and iOS devices.

The app was created in conjunction with team members from Harvard, Facebook, Mayo Clinic, and more, along with further collaboration from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While the app is meant to inform people more about where the coronavirus has been, it could potentially incite panic, since people could suddenly find out that their next-door neighbor has the coronavirus. It poses the question of whether we are better off not knowing rather than being in the know. 

On Monday, it was reported that Israel was advocating to do the same thing for its citizens by using a secret trove of cell phone location data. The data would be used to decide who to put in quarantine based on whether they crossed paths with someone who was diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

The U.S. government is also reportedly looking into how it can work with big tech companies such as Facebook and Google to see if cell phone location data can be used to combat the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak. 

In total, there have been more than 207,600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide and more than 8,248 confirmed deaths, according to an online dashboard that tracks cases. The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, but there have been confirmed cases in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and dozens of other countries around the globe.

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