[Editor’s Note: This article was updated on May 22, 2020, to update information about the availability of Conduent’s contact tracing tool.]
Contact tracing is a time-tested strategy for tracking the spread of viruses (like the novel coronavirus) in an effort to prevent community spread. Effective contract tracing typically requires a small army of boots on the ground to locate individuals and, when necessary, persuade them to be tested.
As the world begins to re-open, many of the world’s technology companies are developing solutions that will allow digital contact tracing. And some tech stocks have reaped the rewards of these initiatives. However, when it comes to the private medical information of millions of Americans, the question changes from “could there be an app for that?” to “should there be an app for that?”
And there are more concerns when it comes to getting Americans back to work. After all, it’s one thing to ask the general public to opt into an app. It’s quite another to have digital contact tracing applied in an enterprise setting. The pros are that it can decipher where an employee has been and who they have been in contact with. This would enable companies to tell them to go home and isolate themselves if they are at high risk for contracting the virus.
Right now, there are more questions than answers. Will it make employees feel safer? Does it work on a large scale? And most importantly, is it even legal?
These are questions that will take many years to work out. In the meantime, many of the world’s leading technology companies are working to develop a framework, at the very least, for effective digital contract tracing. Some of these companies include the following:
- Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)
- Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL)
- Alibaba (NYSE:BABA)
- Tencent Holdings (OTCMKTS:TCEHY)
- SAP SE (NYSE:SAP)
- Deutsche Telekom (OTCMKTS:DTEGY)
- Conduent (NASDAQ:CNDT)
Let’s take a closer look at what these more prominent names are doing and why each of these tech stocks should be on your radar now.
Tech Stocks to Watch: Apple (AAPL) and Alphabet (GOOG)
Initially Apple created a Covid-19 screening tool that could be accessed via the internet or through an app. The screening tool was created in partnership with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The limitation of the screening tool is that it requires individuals to self-report. This is one of the largest privacy concerns about digital contract tracing.
Now Apple is collaborating with Google to create an app that will alert users if they have been in contact with anyone infected with the coronavirus. This will ensure that the app that will work seamlessly with Apple’s iOS operating system and Android operating systems. The two tech giants are working to strengthen privacy protections and will not use GPS location data.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the proposal is “the most concrete technological solutions to date for governmental authorities searching for ways to at least partially lift the lockdown orders that have swept the nation.”
Despite the security measures put in place, the app is drawing criticism for potentially sharing too much private health data.
Alibaba (BABA) and Tencent Holdings (TCEHY)
In contrast to the privacy concerns in the United States, China was able to develop contract tracing without regard to how it might infringe on individual rights. China’s primary digital payment channels are Alipay from Alibaba and WeChat from Tencent Holdings.
The payment channels already track the consumer activity of hundreds of millions of users. As the outbreak became a pandemic, Alibaba and Tencent developed QR code systems for smartphones to scan. This allows authorities to designate individuals who pose a health risk and those who are free to use public spaces and transportation. The system assigned users either a green, yellow or red indicator to indicate what an individual needed/was permitted to do.
SAP SE (SAP) and Deutsche Telekom (DTEGY)
Meanwhile in Europe, SAP SE and Deutsche Telekom are building a contract tracing app for the country. Originally the date from the app was going to be stored on a central server. However, due to privacy concerns, the companies are following a model based on similar principles to the Apple and Google app. Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “A decentralized solution would create more trust among users.”
In an email concurrent with the announcement, SAP said, “Deutsche Telekom and SAP will play their part in Germany and throughout Europe to ensure that European technologies are a central component in the effective fight against coronavirus.”
Conduent is a lesser-known company among the other tech stocks mentioned here. But the company created software solutions for tracking cases of Ebola, SARS, STDs and AIDS. And the company has also created a similar solution for contract tracking of Covid-19.
The software works with Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Azure to track the spread of Covid-19 in more than a dozen jurisdictions. Conduent’s software works primarily with public health agencies at the state, city and county levels to streamline and automate contact tracing for case management.
Chris Markoch is a freelance financial copywriter who has been covering the market for over five years. He has been writing for InvestorPlace since 2019. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.