PathCheck application screenshots
Quote from the PathCheck project
The team is a mix of full-time and part-time leaders, product strategists, designers and engineers with a variety of backgrounds from all over the world. The common unifier being a passion for using technology to change the world, and in this case to help empower users with the option to opt into a secure, pandemic response solution.
Like thoughtbot, the PathCheck team are big fans of building the right, high quality product the first time and also look to share learnings along the way. PathCheck maintains a robust open-source library to support others in the space and provide consulting to support adoption.
The focus of the PathCheck organization is building open source software, standards, and public health programs that help contain the pandemic, restart the economy, and protect individual freedom and privacy. thoughtbot was brought onboard to embed directly with their product team to strategically design, develop and ship contact tracing applications.
Since the PathCheck team consisted of team members and volunteers across a variety of timezones, skill sets and bandwidth, it made for a very unique project. thoughtbot’s Development Lead, John Schoeman shared “Month 2 of the pandemic we’d wake up in the morning and have GM Guam asking what they can work on, midday we’re talking to the leadership of Brazil, then meeting in the afternoon with AWS about how we can actually do this. It was not your typical open source project."
For the app itself, the decision was made to use ReactNative to bring consistent iOS and Android versions to life. thoughtbot also identified a design and localization strategy that would support a variety of constituents, across the US and world. Given the sensitivity around data and privacy in mobile apps, the design had to build trust and confidence quickly.
Last but not least, a large technical feat was the successful integration with the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) framework. GAEN is a protocol developed by Apple and Google in just eight weeks and supports integration with 99% of mobile operating systems. The protocol has strict guidelines to preserve privacy of the end user. Implementing GAEN correctly across device types and operating systems, while reacting to API changes was paramount to get right.
thoughtbot completed user research to inform a design that could scale to serve a variety of communities, and their native languages. A landing page, onboarding flow and privacy overview screen were implemented to help familiarize a user with the app, share an explanation of how the app works and most importantly, how their privacy is maintained.
Behind the scenes, thoughtbot implemented the GAEN framework which allowed the applications to use Bluetooth to anonymously and securely identify when two individual’s devices have been near each other, and potential Covid-19 exposures have occurred.
The first app launch was in Q3 2020, and since then, teams in seven U.S. states and countries are implementing PathCheck technology to create exposure notification mobile apps for their communities, including Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cyprus. Most recently the day after our release in Minnesota, the mobile app was #3 in Utilities and #42 overall in the app store!
The future of these applications will continue to evolve to better serve end users and their health officials. As product enthusiasts, thoughtbot has a passion for exploring how new technologies can better solve problems and look forward to continuing our work with PathCheck to support containing the pandemic. The teams are hopeful this work serves as a foundation to address a wide range of other needs after the pandemic is contained. thoughtbot hosted a fireside chat to talk through all of the lessons learned if you are interested in learning more about our experience.