As we at Swenson He reflect on the first half of 2020, we’d like to thank our amazing team for their continued dedication to driving client success during uncertain times. COVID-19 has forced all of us to adapt and support each other on many levels, and we’re grateful for the positive things that have come out of a challenging environment.
Our bread and butter is crafting digital experiences that enrich lives – so we took some time to jot down some of our thoughts around how mobile software can help society recover, and what we at Swenson He can do to contribute. We also believe that actions speak louder than words, so we’re also proud to announce our “Giving Back” program. But first, some ramblings about viruses, apps, meals, and more.
Combating COVID with software
A concerted, global effort to track the spread of the virus is paramount to safely resuming in-person activities, and digital solutions have a significant role to play. Many data-centric initiatives are being explored, but a widespread, effective solution that respects user privacy is more challenging than it sounds.
A group of prominent medical and business leaders, in their “Manhattan Project for COVID” report, put forth a suggestion that all employees and students returning to school or work in the near future should be required to “certify (via smartphone app)… that they are not experiencing enough […] symptoms to exceed a calculated risk […] of being infected”. Such a mobile app could potentially grant some peace of mind regarding one’s own health; many symptoms are individually common to everyday life, but collectively represent a statistically significant likelihood of infection. A personal screening tool like this would be useful, but it alone would not solve the issue of potential carriers venturing into public areas and unknowingly transmitting the virus.
A more holistic approach would involve a “contact tracing” app that would automatically collect data on user movements and identify potential transmission events when those user’s devices have come into close proximity with other users’ devices. Data-driven tracking has a potential benefit that instead of relying on patients’ memory, technological tools would be used which offer greater reliability and accuracy. However, this kind of intrusive tracing raises major concerns over user privacy and implementation methods. Requiring users to opt-in to sensitive information such as their location is fairly standard in our industry, but normal app adoption rates are nowhere near the levels that would be truly effective. Automatic opt-in from system-level providers such as Apple and Google goes even one step further, but sets worrisome precedent regarding automatic surveillance of citizens.
This pandemic will certainly lead to truly innovative new products that will push the boundaries of how we deal with global threats and analyze data to face them. But it will also force us to think about the uses and ethical limitations of digital products.
Helping where we can
In the meantime, there are even more urgent issues at hand. The economic impact of the lockdown has far-reaching effects, and we were fortunate to be able to partner with The Reach Project to combat some of the very basic challenges being faced, such as meals for those in need.
Reach is a 501(c)(3) charity founded by Max Gerall, a Texas A&M student who befriended A&M’s invisible contract service employees and discovered the struggles faced by many of these ‘invisible aggies’. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to many of these workers losing their jobs, Reach launched an initiative to partner with restaurants in Austin, Texas to provide meals to those who had been recently laid off. We were proud to be able to help Gerall quickly build an online platform that connects to restaurants and manages the distribution of meals. Digital distribution has helped spread Reach’s word very quickly, and to date they have distributed over 16,000 meals!
We hope to bring to bear our expertise and help provide 501(c)(3) nonprofits with a digital platform to further their impact. We’re accepting nominations via our website until September 1st, 2020, and will announce our selection on social media. If you know of or are involved with a nonprofit, we’d love to hear from you!