CoronaMelder research: ‘Unique opportunity to see how society accepts technology’
The CoronaMelder app has been used by the government since October to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Together with her team, Nynke van der Laan, associate professor of Digital Health Communication, is part of the group researching the effectiveness of the app. They are “cautiously positive” about it.
The CoronaMelder is an application created by the government that alerts you if you have been around someone with COVID-19 for more than fifteen minutes. After being notified, you can get a test immediately, even if you do not have any symptoms yet. Meanwhile, the app, which was launched on October 10, 2020, has been downloaded more than 4.5 million times.
Several parties are currently researching whether the app helps against the spread of the coronavirus. One of the research teams is affiliated with Tilburg University and is led by Nynke van der Laan. She is supported by PhD candidate Jan de Wit and Nadine van der Waal. The scientists see it as a great opportunity. “As a researcher, it’s interesting because you learn something about technical adoptions in a general sense,” Van der Laan said.
With their research, they want to find out how the app is used and whether the advice given in the app is followed by users. To find out, four measurements will be carried out over a period of five months in which a representative group of people will be asked the same questionnaire each time. In this way, they hope to get a picture of these people’s behavior over a longer period and, at the same time, explain it.
Last week, the results of the second measurement were announced to the House of Representatives. This took place between December 7 and 20, 2020, two months after the national launch. According to Van der Laan, there are few shifts compared to the first measurement, which took place a week and a half after the launch. “In the first measurement, 27.2% indicated that they use the CoronaMelder. In the second measurement, this percentage increased slightly to 31.3%. The intention to comply with advice also remains high.”
“Part of the explanation for the barely increased number of users is that people often don’t know others are using the app,” says van der Waal. “This is because the CoronaMelder is relatively invisible when used compared to other preventive measures. As a result, there is little talk about it and you also don’t get to know who does or doesn’t use the app.”
“We therefore think that people in our immediate vicinity don’t use the app,” continued van der Waal. “And because we are so eager to conform to other people’s behavior, we are less likely to use the app if we are under the assumption that the people around us don’t either.”
This is where the team sees a point of attention for the government: they could draw a little more attention to the CoronaMelder by, for example, showing how many people are already using the app.
Another major reason why people are not adopting the app, according to the researchers, is that non-users are skeptical of its contribution to preventing the spread of the virus. This is the biggest difference between user and non-user, the research group says.
This skepticism seems to be on the rise as the percentage of respondents who think the CoronaMelder helps in the fight against the coronavirus dropped from 54.1% to 45.6%.
On top of that, says De Wit, the app does not really add value for the user. “It’s not really pleasant to use the app, because you get notifications that you don’t really want to be confronted with. In addition, the CoronaMelder does not prevent the disease in the user. After all, if you get a notification, it’s already too late for you.”
Although not everyone uses the app, the research team is “cautiously positive” about its effectiveness. Indeed, people with the coronavirus seem to be detected earlier than before.
This is mainly because people who have no symptoms can still be tested as a result of a notification in the app. Van der Laan: “The GGD figures seem to suggest that about 5% of those people test positive. That’s a good thing anyway.”
In addition, a high percentage of users indicate that they intend to follow the app’s advice. The app may advise you to have a test or go into quarantine. “Assuming that this intention is also converted into actual behavior, this makes us feel positive,” says De Wit. “It is more favorable than a situation in which many people use the app, but there is little to no intention to follow the advice.”
Because the results of other research teams must be awaited, and also because the team’s own research is not yet complete, it is as yet largely unclear how effective the app is. That is why, according to the team, it is important that the government is not too enthusiastic about the app. De Wit: “It’s not wise for the government to make all kinds of promises about the CoronaMelder if its effectiveness hasn’t been proven yet. That’s dangerous and a recipe for distrust of the government.”
What is clear, according to the researchers, is that there seem to be hardly any negative consequences attached to the app. “The biggest concern would be that the CoronaMelder creates a false sense of security and people start to exhibit risk-compensating behavior as a result,” Van der Laan says.
“However, our research shows that this is not the case. The percentage of people who think that it is less necessary to adhere to the other measures when using the app is (still) very low.” The lack of negative effects is perhaps the most important conclusion so far.
Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel