The MyDataCan (Public Health Edition to Combat COVID-19) platform offers you affiliated apps to live a better life while you also help keep yourself and your community safe and healthy. You don’t have to use a single approved app all the time to be COVID aware. Instead, MyDataCan makes an assortment of affiliated apps available. You can choose to use any one, some or all the apps on MyDataCan to help everyone stay safe and healthy.

How It Works

Sign up at harvard.mydatacan.org with your HarvardKey to establish your personal account. Specify your preferred means of communication --email, phone or text-- to receive just-in-time notifications from Harvard University Health Services. Then, use as many MyDataCan affiliated apps as you want. The more time you spend using an affiliated app, the better for the community. Select an app on MyDataCan and then download it from Apple iTunes or Google Play Store as normal. It’s that simple.

During the time you have an affiliated MyDataCan app active on your phone, the app will store location information from your device to your private storage on MyDataCan. The stored information is your personal copy, under your control, to use as you want. You can download it, delete it or even share it with other apps. The data remains there as long as you want or this edition of MyDataCan is available.

A copy of the last 14 days of location information is also stored in the Public Health Can, only created and made available for use by Harvard University Health Services for public health functions during the pandemic. If a community member tests positive to COVID-19, Health Services runs an automated program on data in the Public Health Can. The programs compute your proximity to the infected person and will notify you if you were located close, near or in the vicinity of the infected person. You can then take precautions, if needed, and be alert to further communications or instructions from Health Services. The programs use your stated preference for communication.

Your name, address or HUID is not stored with your location information in the Public Health Can. Instead, your location information is only associated with an indirect means to contact you. You may be contacted or your identity may become known to Health Services as medical or public health circumstances dictate. All location information in the Public Health Can that is older than 14 days is automatically deleted.

Participation is optional. A person can elect not to use an app affiliated with MyDataCan.

The Approach

The term contact tracing has a very specific meaning in public health. When someone tests positive (through a clinical or lab test) to a reportable contagious disease, public health officials are contacted as a matter of legal requirement. The goal is to identify other people that may be infected and not realize it. Once notified, these other people could then take precautions not to spread the virus further.

For simplicity, let’s say Alice is the name of a person at Harvard who tested positive to COVID-19. A public health official, known as a contact tracer, interviews Alice to identify the places Alice has gone and the people with whom Alice may have had contact with while she was contagious. This kind of investigation takes a lot of time and effort, and here in many places is often measured in weeks. Meanwhile, people may continue to infect other people, not knowing that they have been exposed. Clearly, regular contact tracing does not scale effectively on a college campus sufficient to thwart a massive outbreak. What is needed is more timely notification of those who were in contact with Alice.

In addition, Alice may not remember recent past encounters. Or, Alice might remember the encounters she had in close contact, but not know the names of the people.

The MyDataCan Apps Platform can help an infected person recall encounters and can alert people who may have had encounters with an infected person. The timely notice can lead them to take precautions that keep others from becoming infected.

The Platform also makes contact notification fast (almost immediate) and creates a privacy wall between the collection of the location information and those engaged in contact tracing. Here is how the approach would work at Harvard.

  1. Alice tests positive to COVID-19.
  2. Alice’s test result forwards to a human contact tracer at Harvard University Health Services.
  3. The human contact tracer interviews Alice to figure out who Alice may have infected. All information is protected under medical and public health confidentiality provisions.
  4. Alice may only remember about half of her recent encounters, so the human contact tracer enters Alice’s HUID into a secure web application that queries the Public Health Can at MyDataCan.
  5. The program privately shows the human contact tracer a list of places to help Alice recall events.
  6. The programs also privately shows the human contact tracer places where Alice may have been in proximate contact with other known people. The human contact tracer asks Alice about those encounters without revealing the names of the people. The human contact tracer determines the likelihood that others were infected and updates and notifies people accordingly.

As mentioned earlier, a person can elect not to participate by not using an affiliated MyDataCan app.

If you have an app, or if you are an app developer building an app, learn how to affiliate your app with MyDataCan.