PanCast: Listening to Bluetooth Beacons for Epidemic Risk Mitigation

by   Gilles Barthe, et al.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there have been burgeoning efforts to develop and deploy smartphone apps to expedite contact tracing and risk notification. Most of these apps track pairwise encounters between individuals via Bluetooth and then use these tracked encounters to identify and notify those who might have been in proximity of a contagious individual. Unfortunately, these apps have not yet proven sufficiently effective, partly owing to low adoption rates, but also due to the difficult tradeoff between utility and privacy and the fact that, in COVID-19, most individuals do not infect anyone but a few superspreaders infect many in superspreading events. In this paper, we proposePanCast, a privacy-preserving and inclusive system for epidemic risk assessment and notification that scales gracefully with adoption rates, utilizes location and environmental information to increase utility without tracking its users, and can be used to identify superspreading events. To this end, rather than capturing pairwise encounters between smartphones, our system utilizes Bluetooth encounters between beacons placed in strategic locations where superspreading events are most likely to occur and inexpensive, zero-maintenance, small devices that users can attach to their keyring. PanCast allows healthy individuals to use the system in a purely passive "radio" mode, and can assist and benefit from other digital and manual contact tracing systems. Finally, PanCast can be gracefully dismantled at the end of the pandemic, minimizing abuse from any malevolent government or entity.


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