Culver City resident hopes to help contact tracing app catch on

Developer Tyler Ysaka’s web app emphasizes privacy, and Culver resident Nabin Rankitkdar believes that is the key

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With COVID-19 continuing to make its mark on society, people have been anxious to do what they can to get back to their lives.

Contact tracing could end up being one of the most important factors in the United States’ ability to reopen, and Culver City resident Nabin Rankitkdar believes he has found the answer.

Strangely enough though, it isn’t his answer.

No, the credit for the work goes to Tyler Ysaka, a former software engineer who is now looking to go to med school. He is currently working at UC Irvine, where he has been developing the TrackCOVID app.

TrackCOVID is not an app in the traditional sense where it is downloaded onto a device. Instead, it works via a website, so no information is collected from users.

“If there is an app to download, that’s a barrier to entry for some people, and it also adds to the feeling that something is tracking you now,” Ysaka told the News.

To use the app, a person would scan a QR code at the entrance of businesses and high volume locations, and the app would notify people if a case was reported by a person who scanned a QR code that you scanned in a similar time frame.

The app has been in development since March, spurred on by a paper that Ysaka read which claimed that you could potentially use technology to do contact tracing.

“I figured that with my technology background, I thought that would be an interesting problem to tackle,” Ysaka explained.

Ysaka went on to outline some of the steps he has taken to ensure the security of the app, and believes that people using TrackCOVID would have nothing to worry about.

“From a technical perspective, all the code is open source and its designed in such a way that you couldn’t use it for surveillance even if you want to because it doesn’t collect any confidential data about you or leave a digital footprint that you can go back to and trace anything.” Ysaka reiterated. 

“It was really built with privacy in mind first, so I think if you look at it from a technological perspective, it is really rock solid.”

During the production of the app, Rankitkdar caught wind of the project, and enlisted his services to help in whatever way he could. With the app already being in essence complete, it became a matter of spreading the word and helping it catch on.

Ysaka can use all the help he can get, as he admits he has received uncontrollable pushback from people.

In terms of people’s perceptions, it is kind of hard to convince people, especially people who don’t understand the technology, that your identity is secure. You just have to take my word for it.” 

While he doesn’t have any solutions that he can implement on his own, there is hope that others can help shed some light. 

“I don’t know if there is any other solution besides other people with technological experience taking a look at the code and being able to validate what I am saying that it can’t be used for surveillance.”