How Covid Tracking Apps Are Pivoting for Commercial Profit


Spector sees this current version of the Zoe app as a giant citizen science project. Users can sign up for different studies, which involve answering questions through the app. Current studies include research on the gut microbiome, the first signs of dementia, and the role of immune health in heart disease. Before the pandemic, recruiting hundreds of thousands of people for a study would be nearly impossible, but the Zoe app is now a great potential resource for new research. “I’d love to see what happens when 100,000 people skip breakfast for two weeks,” Spector says.

People who reported symptoms of Covid are not automatically included in these new studies. Some 800,000 people have agreed to track their health beyond Covid through the Zoe app, while a smaller proportion of people have signed up for specific trials. But it’s hard to imagine these big record numbers without the app having played such a prominent role during the pandemic.

“These emergencies become catalysts and create a very unique environment,” says Angeliki Kerasidou, professor of ethics at Oxford University. “Something we need to think about a little bit more carefully is how we use these situations and what we do with them.”

There is also a question about the line between the provision of care and the conduct of research, says Kerasidou. At the height of the pandemic, the National Health Services of Wales and Scotland directed people to follow up on their symptoms through the Zoe app. Monitoring Covid’s symptoms in this way may seem like a socially responsible thing, but now that the app focuses on health monitoring and broader clinical trials, people should feel the same obligation to participate. -hi?

German app Luca is experiencing an even more dramatic facelift. In the spring of 2021, 13 German states had signed contacts to monitor contacts with the application, for a total value of 21.3 million euros (22.4 million dollars). At the time, people used the app to sign up for restaurants or other businesses by scanning a QR code. If they came across someone who tested positive for the virus, the app would tell them to isolate themselves.

But as Germany’s vaccination rates improved, state contracts began to evaporate. In response, Luca CEO Patrick Hennig looked for a new business model. In February 2022, Luca revealed that it would be transformed into a payment app, with its new payment feature launched in early June.

This was a bold business decision for a notoriously cash-friendly Germany. About 46 per cent of Germans still prefer to use cash, according to a 2021 study by British polling company YouGov, compared to just over 20 per cent in the UK. But Hennig hopes to change the ingrained habits by taking advantage of the Luca brand (and the 40 million registered user base) that the company has built during the pandemic.

The idea is that people can use Luca as an alternative to card terminals. At the end of a meal, restaurant attendees scan a QR code that shows them their bill and allows them to pay using the Luca app, using Apple Pay or their card details. Hennig is trying to encourage restaurants to use their system by lowering the rate from 1 to 3 percent they usually charge for using a card terminal. Right now, Luca is free for restaurants and shops, but that will go up at a rate of 0.5 percent by the end of the year, Hennig says. So far, more than 1,000 restaurants and shops have registered.



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