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University of Alabama system to help develop mobile phone COVID-19 APP


The University of Alabama system says it will cooperate in the development of a voluntary mobile phone APP that could help keep track of COVID-19 among its students. Proponents of using cell phone tracking data to follow the spread of COVID-19 say this technology could be used to track the spread of the virus and warn others. University of Alabama graduate Jake Ellenberg is Chief Marketing Officer for a company called XMode. It provides tools to the developers of free cell phone APPs to track the movements of users of their customers. Ellenberg says XMode did a demonstration project where it tracked the movements of young people who opted to use an APP to track their movements during Spring Break in Florida.

“I think one of things we wanted to showcase, is just how connected the United States is, and how far a gathering from one spring break beach could reach," says Ellenberg. "And we showed, one device made it all the way to Canada.”

The point is to direct online advertisements based on an APP user's travel habits, But, Ellenberg says once someone indicates they have contracted COVID-19, the same system could warn the owners of other cell phones that came close to that patient's phone that they may also be at risk. Several universities are working with Apple and Google on the technology which would ask participating students to check in every three days on things including whether they are feeling well, or developing a fever, or have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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