Hack Idea: ~Waze for Coronavirus

Posted on March 11, 2020. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I think I’m through the initial shock of coronavirus. I’ve taken steps at home and work to best mitigate my role in the transmission of this virus and have encouraged everyone around me to do the same. With immediate/reactive efforts in as good a shape as they can be, I’ve started to think about how our industry can contribute to the overall challenge our country, and the world, currently faces. I think history will look back on those that looked out for themselves with understanding, and those that looked our for others with reverence. It would be nice if we, as an industry, could use our considerable resource and skill to do more than simply analyze public data and amplify warning or concern on social media.

Is tech going to start building test kits which are sorely needed? Ulikely. Are we going to increase hospital capacity in the near term? Probably not. So what are the assets we have or could develop to do our part?

One asset that I find particularly interesting is location based data. I would guess that 70% of infected people in the US allow at least one application to track their location persistently. That line through space of where a patient traveled, how long they spent time in different locations, and on what dates/times feels like a very valuable input to both identification of potential infected persons as well as prevention of further infection. I’m guessing most of these apps don’t store historical logs of such a history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google Maps and Waze, for example, have this data. Findmyiphone and Life360 feel like interesting assets to explore for the same use. AT&T and Verizon probably have pretty darn good visibility at scale as to where their customers have moved through space and when. Whether or not these data assets are being used by disease detectives in current workflow is unknown to me, but now feels like a moment where people would be willing to trade privacy for safety of themselves and others…so there’s one question, which is “can we access existing/historical location data and redefine the terms of how it can be used?”

Another question is can we hack together a new piece of software to help people navigate these uncertain times. I’m interested in the idea of an app who’s sole purpose is to continuously track your location and alert you when you are entering high risk places and contexts. I think people would trade their privacy for a service that helped them and their loved ones stay virus-free. You could start by using non-network contributed data to provide these notifications/intelligence. Inputs like people density, popularity at certain times, proximity to publicly reported cases, etc…would be enough to help people make decisions on where to go and when. The more interesting part to me is if you could harness a collective mindset, where everyone using the app was trying to help others not get sick, that could be really powerful. What if the app enabled users to anonymously self report when they have symptoms or a positive diagnosis? That type of input, paired with the self reporter’s historical movement through space and time (which we’d have been capturing already), transposed on everyone else’s movement through space and time, could be a recipe for hyper-personal, hyper-actionable warnings of potential exposure. I think we’ve seen globally what top down govt surveillance can do to assist in the fight, but I’d like to believe that there’s a bottoms up answer for us to fight within the context of our civil liberties and norms. So yea, can we build Waze for coronavirus and try to help each other out in staying safe? What if instead of reporting cops to help others avoid speeding tickets, we reported symptoms and diagnoses alongside our historical movement in order to help others avoid the coronavirus. That’d be a dope hack. Single player mode: “use this app to avoid the virus,” multiplayer/network dense mode: “use this app to help others too.” Happy to throw some (personal) financial resources against that or someone else’s better idea if that’d help something get built and distributed. jordan@pacecapital.com

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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