As part of UC Berkeley’s Safe Campus Initiative, the university and Bitmark Inc. have partnered to launch Autonomy, a public health app that helps users understand how their local community is managing with COVID-19. 

In the process, Autonomy enables participants to control their rights to personal data submitted to the app, creating a safe privacy-first environment in which participants always opt-in.

The Safe Campus initiative is UC Berkeley’s program to establish a system to keep the campus and surrounding communities safe to facilitate the eventual ramp-up of on-campus activities at the university. The study is led by a team of researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health—in partnership with University Health Services; the Innovative Genomics Institute; the Division of Computing, Data Science and Society; and the City of Berkeley health department.

Shelley Facente, the lead graduate student researcher for the Berkeley Safe Campus Initiative, said, “We are excited to make Autonomy available as an optional companion app for the initiative. Autonomy may help participants stay engaged by keeping them informed about the community around them without sacrificing personal privacy.”

Safe Campus is estimating the incidence of new infections of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19); discovering who seems more likely to develop infection and why; developing strategies for how best to mitigate this risk; and allowing the campus to create effective systems to track potential infections. The ultimate goal of the study is to learn how to effectively prevent and control ongoing transmission as the school ramps up on-campus activities.

The Autonomy app completes the engagement loop for study participants: they contribute symptom and behavior data to the study and receive feedback through aggregated study data from the app. Autonomy also lets participants rate and review COVID-19 safety practices among local restaurants, café’s, bookstores, and other shops.

After the study concludes on Sept. 30, the app will be opened to all Berkeley residents and accessible as a web app on all Google Android and Apple iPhone devices, giving everyone access to the world-class public-health technology pioneered by UC Berkeley and Bitmark.

The app, including its privacy and data practices, was fully reviewed and approved by UC Berkeley’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects. Using Bitmark’s digital rights protocol, participants can read, export, and delete their data from the Autonomy app at any time. Participants control their rights in Autonomy without the need of third parties acting as gatekeepers, including Bitmark Inc. – Bitmark’s rights protocol operates decentralized through blockchain.