This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it on weekdays.
I was reluctant to write about whether and how Americans could provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus. It’s a political, cultural, ethical and legal minefield. Technology is not the point at all.
However, if some workplaces, schools, public meeting places, and tour operators require a “vaccination record” it makes sense for them to do so in a way that protects people’s privacy, is easy to use, wins people’s trust, and at no cost creates wealth.
Let me tell you about an interesting proposition from the PathCheck Foundation, a nonprofit health technology. The central premise is that technology should be as minimal as possible in relation to our health. This philosophy should be our North Star.
Here’s a problem with some early technological approaches to digital vaccine eligibility systems: They create too many middlemen to access your health records, said Ramesh Raskar, associate professor at the MIT Media Lab who also founded PathCheck.
In the United States, most of the time, states keep records of which residents have been vaccinated. Early efforts to create vaccine IDs, like the Excelsior Pass in New York, essentially create a replica of these state databases with information like your name, date of birth, address, batch numbers of your recordings, etc. And that’s what companies and others access when checking to see if anyone walking through the door has been vaccinated, said Dr. Raskar.
Adding multiple layers of technology to a system increases the likelihood that your sensitive data will leak. It’s also expensive and complicated for everyone involved. “It’s completely unnecessary,” Dr. Raskar.
PathCheck’s idea is to create simple software code that anyone – workplaces, schools, or airlines – can incorporate into apps without the need to replicate health records.
When you need to provide proof of vaccination, a unique code conveys two pieces of information: your identity and that you have been vaccinated. Yes, there is still a middleman, but the difference is that the apps do as little as possible to access your confidential information. The relevant data is transferred more directly between your phone and the government health records. You may also need to show your ID.
He compared this proposal to paying for a sandwich with cash instead of a credit card. It doesn’t take a complicated paper trail to buy a lunch. The metaphor is not perfect, but it is useful.
Some of the organizations that offer vaccination technologies, including IBM and airport screening company Clear, are doing a similar pitch where their technologies are as minimal as possible.
April 20, 2021, 7:01 p.m. ET
Dr. Raskar says that often it doesn’t because tech companies, states, and others have tried using a lot of intelligence to solve the problem. When you hear the word “blockchain” on vaccine IDs, you know something is off the rails. The risk is that we will end up with complicated, potentially incompatible technology that people can use to provide evidence of vaccination.
What we really need is stupid technology that does as little as possible and knows as little as possible about us. “How can we make it simple, easy, simple, as opposed to what tech companies are doing to add more?” Said Dr. Raskar.
PathCheck is just one of several companies and non-profit groups developing anti-fraud evidence. It will be confusing for a while as these technologies are evaluated and tested.
However, PathCheck deserves credit for turning the approach to vaccination evidence on its head. Less and dumber technology is usually the best.
What You Need To Know About The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Break In The United States
- On April 13, 2021, U.S. health officials called for an immediate halt to use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine after six recipients in the U.S. developed a rare blood clot disorder within one to three weeks of being vaccinated.
- All 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have temporarily stopped using the vaccine or recommended providers are suspending use of the vaccine. The U.S. military, government-run vaccination centers, and a variety of private companies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, and Publix, also paused the injections.
- Fewer than one in a million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are currently being studied. If there is a real risk of blood clots from the vaccine – which has yet to be determined – the risk is extremely small. The risk of contracting Covid-19 in the United States is much higher.
- The hiatus could complicate the country’s vaccination efforts at a time when many states are facing spikes in new cases and are trying to address vaccine hesitation.
- Johnson & Johnson had also decided to delay the launch of its vaccine in Europe amid concerns about rare blood clots. However, the company later decided to continue its campaign after the European Union Medicines Agency announced the addition of a warning. South Africa, devastated by a contagious variant of the virus, stopped using the vaccine and Australia announced that it would not buy doses.
More information on this topic:
Before we go …
To be big tech means to fight against big governments: Governments around the world are trying to limit technology companies with “a urgency and breadth unprecedented in an industry,” my colleagues said. The complaints are not uniform across China, the United States, Europe, Myanmar, India, Australia and other countries, but there is one common cause of government fear: the power of tech companies.
Hacking McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines! I had no idea, but apparently the machines that mix McDonald’s ice cream and shakes are proprietary, fragile, and complicated – and only certified technicians are allowed to fix them. A couple built an internet-connected device for franchisees to fix the machines themselves, Wired reported, and a war began with the restaurant giant.
Amazon opens a hair salon in London. It’s an experiment, but WHAT and WHY?
How do you bottle feed a few baby goats at the same time? They make a goat feeding assembly line.
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us at [email protected]
If you do not have this newsletter in your inbox yet, please register here.