Policy idea: Incentivizing COVID-19 tracking app use with lottery tickets

by pmk1 min read22nd Apr 20205 comments


Personal Blog

tl;dr: Not enough people use COVID-19 tracking apps. Give the app users lottery tickets to incentivize their use. Might be a cost-effective way of fighting the pandemic.

"But even as cases in the country [Singapore] - which is in lockdown - have surged past 9,000, only about one in five people have downloaded the app, TraceTogether, which uses Bluetooth signals to log when people have been close to one another."

"The Bluetooth approach, being pursued at various stages by governments across Europe and Latin America, as well as in Australia and many Asia nations, requires a majority of people in a geographic area to adopt it for it to be effective." From: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-apps/bluetooth-phone-apps-for-tracking-covid-19-show-modest-early-results-idUSKCN2232A0

The utilization of these apps could increase significantly with reasonable costs and without making them mandatory if their users automatically participated in a national lottery. 70% of UK adults play the lottery regularly and 50% do so every month. A free lottery ticket + fighting COVID-19 might incentivize a significant portion to use the app.

For example, say the UK distributes £10 million each week via the lottery. The cost per month would be £40 million + running costs, and the yearly costs would be about £500 million + running costs or £7.6 per person (plus running costs). Smaller prizes might also incentivize enough people to use the app making the costs significantly smaller (e.g. £1 million in prizes every week would cost £52 million a year + other costs). If successful, this approach could be continued until we get a vaccine.

"Our estimates are that for every one or two people who install the app, one onward infection is averted and if just over half the population downloads the app then the epidemic can be suppressed entirely." From: https://www.itv.com/news/2020-04-18/could-an-app-be-the-way-to-take-the-uk-of-out-of-coronavirus-lockdown/

"The think tank estimates that a three-month lockdown followed by three months of looser restrictions will cost £127bn in direct bailout costs and £119bn in indirect costs such as lower tax revenue." From: https://www.localgov.co.uk/Coronavirus-could-cost-Government-246bn-this-year-think-tank-warns/50355

What do you think? Do you think campaigning alone would get enough people to use these apps?

A cost-effective way of fighting COVID-19 (?)
Could enable us to end the lockdown without getting a second wave of infections thus saving the economy and lives
Not necessary to make the app use mandatory

Seems a bit tasteless "Win money and save lives"
People might feel they're selling their privacy for a lottery ticket
Some governments might continue doing this even after the pandemic
Enough people might start using the tracking app without any extra incentives or there might be cheaper ways of promoting the app use
People might download the app but not use it correctly
Unfair for those who don't own a smartphone (though the policy would also benefit them)
Implementation issues?
Legal issues?

Personal Blog