Behind the global efforts to make a privacy-first coronavirus tracking app

""There's really never been a time in history where a clever app means the difference between widespread calamity and people being able to go about their lives," said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who studies privacy. "It's just not plausible. This is a serious emergency we're in."

Calo said an app could fail in multiple ways even if it's designed well. For example, could a prankster visit several grocery stores and then sign up for the app as a false positive to cause trouble, sparking unnecessary panic?

Developers said they've anticipated such abuse and can prevent it — by allowing only hospital staff members to authorize someone to identify on the app as having tested positive — but Calo said there are too many other ways an app could go wrong.

"People will be reassured when they shouldn't be, and they will panic when they shouldn't panic," Calo said."