With the relative ubiquity of smartphones, contact tracing and exposure notification apps have been looked to as novel methods to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Many countries have created apps that lie across a spectrum from privacy-first approaches to those that have very few privacy measures. The level of privacy incorporated into an app is largely based on the societal norms and values of a particular country. Digital health technologies can be highly effective and preserve privacy at the same time, but in the case of contact tracing and exposure notification apps, there is a trade-off between increased privacy measures and the effectiveness of the app. In this article, examples from various countries are used to highlight how characteristics of contract tracing and exposure notification apps contribute to the perceived levels of privacy awarded to citizens and how this impacts an app’s effectiveness. We conclude that finding the right balance between privacy and effectiveness, while critical, is challenging because it is highly context-specific.
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