UCSF app wants to use your biometric data to track the spread of coronavirus

The COVID-19 Citizen Science project aims to improve our understanding of how the disease is spreading.

A new UC San Francisco initiative will give you a way to help advance our understanding of the coronavirus pandemic, even if you're not a scientist or a medical professional. The COVID-19 Citizen Science project welcomes contributions from anyone over 18, so long as they have a phone and can download its app.

To participate and download the app, you'll have to sign up for the project through UCSF's Eureka Research platform using your phone number. Upon installing the app, it will ask you to complete a 10-to-15 minute initial survey about your health and daily habits. After that, you'll get follow-up questions via push notifications and text messages every week over the next six months.

The app will give you the option to provide it with your near-constant location information -- the good news is that it's opt in, so just make sure not to activate it if you're concerned about privacy. Also, you'll soon be able share (if you want to) health data such as blood pressure, weight, exercise and sleep from Fitbit and other similar devices with the app.

Take note that if you consent to sharing your information, it will be included in a de-identified platform-wide data warehouse that is publicly available through a Data Use Agreement. And as previous studies (PDF) and health agencies warn (PDF), there remains a possibility that anonymized data can be still linked back to its source.

The spread of COVID-19 has been varied across regions, the physicians and scientists behind the project explained. We still don't have a full understanding of the factors that determine how the disease affects individuals and populations. The team is hoping that the project can provide researchers with the data they need to be able to figure out how the virus is spreading and to predict and reduce the number of infections.