Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Wrap up: The latest in technology

By SHIVNI PATEL | April 18, 2020

Hopkins creates U.S.-specific map tracking COVID-19 testing and hospital capacity

The University launched a new map last week that adds to the institution’s efforts to track the international outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The new map features data on the U.S. by county level, including local hospital capacities, population size and infection rate. The map was created by experts across multiple disciplines, building on the COVID-19 Global Tracking Map initially developed by Associate Professor Lauren Gardner and her team at the Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. 

The map also features data on county-level poverty rates and socioeconomic and demographic data. Associate Professor Jennifer Nuzzo of the Hopkins Center for Health Security spoke in a video press conference on April 14 about the implications of the data the new map provides, noting the potential for the data to guide public health officials and governments in decision making. Nuzzo stated that there are disparities in terms of which communities in the United States are suffering more from the pandemic. 

“Not all communities are affected evenly, and not all communities are affected at the same time,” she said in the press conference. 

In the first week, new app Quibi reaches over 1.7 million downloads

Quibi, a new streaming app which launched on April 6, hit 1.7 million downloads in the first week of its launch according to the company’s CEO, Meg Whitman. The app rivals companies like Netflix by condensing shows into 10 minutes or less. It is currently only available on tablets and smartphones, but the company has mentioned plans to soon expand its reach to televisions. 

Whitman and Quibi’s founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, mentioned their aspirations for Quibi to compete with major entertainment services like Netflix, Disney+, TikTok and YouTube. With people spending more time at home due to social distancing and lockdown measures, several analysts felt that consumers would be more inclined to watch longer shows, which would negatively impact Quibi’s ability to attract consumers. In an interview with CNBC, Whitman, who is also the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, disagreed. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had not hurt the company’s launch.

“It turns out people have in-between moments at home,” Whitman said. “We don’t actually think it hurt us.”

China removes Animal Crossing after app was used for Hong Kong protests

China removed the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons from sale on websites in the country last week, after high-profile Hong Kong activists posted pro-democracy messages on the game.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a popular simulation game which allows players to decorate the simulation with images and slogans. Activists supporting democracy in Hong Kong used the platform’s customizing tool to post political material. Activist Joshua Wong posted on Twitter last week an image of his in-game decoration which included the words “Free Hong Kong, revolution now.” In an interview with Wired UK, Wong explained why Animal Crossing had become a medium for activists in Hong Kong to advocate for democracy. 

Animal Crossing is a place without political censorship so it is a good place to continue our fight,” Wong said. “Even lawmakers in Hong Kong are playing this game.”

No official announcement was made by the Chinese government regarding the game. 

Google and Apple collaborating to create contact tracing phone apps

Last week, Google and Apple announced that they would be developing contact tracing apps for mobiles. The two tech companies teamed up on this project with a stated goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 by identifying the contact information of individuals who test positive.

Responding to public concerns, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a tweet that the efforts would not infringe on user privacy. 

“Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with [Google CEO Sundar Pichai] @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent,” Cook wrote.  

In a press release on April 10, Apple also stressed its commitment to privacy and transparency during the development of contact tracing apps. The release includes links to various drafts of the design of the app, which the companies claim will be regularly updated. It also mentions the possibility of opting-out of involvement in contact tracing, noting that those who do not download the app will not be traced. Though it is an effort to maintain privacy of individuals, many epidemiologists believe this aspect of the design may result in a limitation to the app’s overall effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The contact-tracing project Covid Watch recently released an analysis noting that the apps would need about 50 to 70 percent of the population adopting them in order to be effective.

However, even in the case of widespread adoption, some experts are concerned that the large quantities of data could overwhelm public health officials. In an interview with Wired, Associate Professor Jennifer Nuzzo of the Hopkins Center for Health Security raised the concern of false positives overloading health officials. 

“Would it be so imperfect that it actually increases the workload for public health officials over traditional methods?” Nuzzo said. 

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