Brilliantly Simple & App-Free Contact Tracing from the Aloha State

“If this gets someone tested and saves a potential death, it is worth it,” explains Aryn Nakaoka regarding his app-free, contact tracing program, Covid Tracking Hawaii. An entrepreneur from the Aloha State, Nakaoka’s motivation comes from his desire to keep all aspects of Hawaii healthy.

The motivation for his solution was a visit to a restaurant where he was asked to provide his phone number. What he and his team put together eliminates the need for the business to keep pieces of paper, manage databases, or make calls.

As a former steering committee for the Hawaiian State IT Board, Nakaoka understands that for a process to be used it has to be simple. Thus, one of Nakaoka’s requirements in developing his approach is that he wanted it to be accessible to all people, whether or not a person has a smartphone or a flip phone.

A Brilliantly Simple Solution

One simply sends a text to a number that is specific to a given location, whether a bus stop, a barbershop, or a doctor’s office. The user can manually enter or automatically enter the phone number or via a QR code. A confirmation text is then sent, which provides the user with a record of the locations where they had been.

The benefit to the business is they don’t have to keep a database or make individual calls in case it is needed. Nakaoka sees their work as being an outreach program for the contact tracing efforts of county health departments.

By crowd-sourcing data input and connecting his database with the CRMs of the county health departments, he estimates three to four minutes of savings per contact compared to manual data entry. Collectively, this adds up and could make a huge difference in stomping out flare-ups.

Privacy and Data Protection Built-In

As an ISP and company that handle telephone systems for clients, he is sensitive to protecting people’s phone numbers. In the above interview, he is assuring that it would not be in his best business interest to use the phone numbers for marketing or other purposes (and would probably violate FCC privacy requirements, if he did). The numbers are also not accessible by the businesses promoting the service.

With that said, he does have costs. By including a promotional message as part of the confirmation text, he has found at least one way to pay the costs. He will willingly work with other groups, whether civic organizations or other ISPs, to replicate his code and process to bring it to communities outside his island home.

A Business for Scale & Hopefully a Short Lifecycle

The ability to scale is at the heart of his solution. He is working on several ideas to refine and extend its capabilities, including applications in tourism. Still, this is a business that Nakaoka hopes is so successful it is no longer needed. We are all hope you are right, Aryn.

  • 00:00:51 – The premise behind Covid Tracking Hawaii is that people don’t want to be tracked, it needs to be simple, and accessible for all people
  • 00:03:06 – Education is the number one priority and people have to act like COVID-19 is serious. They need to be reminded and that’s a big part of what Covid Tracking Hawaii is about.
  • 00:03:35 – Hawaii is in another lockdown which is killing commerce, according to Nakaoka. He Covid Tracking Hawaii as a marketing opportunity for businesses.
  • 00:04:26 – Australia requires sign-ins, but they are hand-written, a mess, and potentially vulnerable to security breaches.
  • 00:05:36 – He sees application with buses, as bus drivers have no idea who got on and off the bus and don’t have time to collect names.
  • 00:06:53 – The advantage to the business owner is no maintenance of a database
  • 00:08:27 – He explains that he wants this approach to be successful that it puts itself out of business.
  • 00:08:42 – This could be spread to other service providers around the country. The big cost is the SMS gateway
  • 00:10:00 – The information is portable and doesn’t require a huge database integration
  • 00:10:45 – There is a possibility for monetizing the service to pay to help pay for the costs.
  • 00:11:53 – Although the text messages are relatively inexpensive the costs could be significant if many people use the service.
  • 00:12:24 – This could be the equivalent of a mask for electronic contact tracing.
  • 00:12:50 – Nakaoka talks about working with other partners to extend it geographically across the U.S. and indicates it is scalable. Can anyone guess which Broadband provider Ken is asking about in his question?
  • 00:15:20 – The information they collect is the user’s cell phone number, the date, and location.
  • 00:16:45 – “If someone gets someone tested and saves a potential death, it is worth it.”
  • 00:17:44 – Data is continually purged so that no more than two weeks of data is stored at any time.
  • 00:18:35 – He has an idea of how his data could flow into a health department’s contract tracer Customer Relationship Management system.
  • 00:22:08 – They need a partnership with a telco in order to scale. This is a great marketing opportunity
  • 00:23:02 – He has an idea for an additional app that would solve the problem of QR fatigue
  • 00:23:52 – They don’t keep the information and it costs them to pay for SMSs – he does see an opportunity to add an app – but he doesn’t believe many people will download an app.
  • 00:25:35 – Covid Tracking Hawaii effectively provides a diary for people who have a “dumb phone.