Automated contact tracing: A game of big numbers in the time of COVID-19

Hyunju Kim, Ayan Paul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


One of the more widely advocated solutions for slowing down the spread of COVID-19 has been automated contact tracing. Since proximity data can be collected by personal mobile devices, the natural proposal has been to use this for automated contact tracing providing a major gain over a manual implementation. In this work, we study the characteristics of voluntary and automated contact tracing and its effectiveness for mapping the spread of a pandemic due to the spread of SARS-CoV-2. We highlight the infrastructure and social structures required for automated contact tracing to work. We display the vulnerabilities of the strategy to inadequate sampling of the population, which results in the inability to sufficiently determine significant contact with infected individuals. Of crucial importance will be the participation of a significant fraction of the population for which we derive a minimum threshold. We conclude that relying largely on automated contact tracing without population-wide participation to contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic can be counterproductive and allow the pandemic to spread unchecked. The simultaneous implementation of various mitigation methods along with automated contact tracing is necessary for reaching an optimal solution to contain the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200954
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number175
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • contact tracingdisease mitigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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