There’s big money in ‘immunity passports,’ but the idea is complicated

Onfido, an identity-verification company that works on immunity certificates, just raised a boatload of cash.


April 16, 2020

A software company that’s grabbing headlines for its work on “immunity passports,” which could help open up locked-down economies worldwide, announced yesterday that it raised another $100m.

We have to admit: The phrase “immunity passport” sounds soooo good right now. 

People who’ve recovered from COVID-19 would be tested for the presence of antibodies. With a little tech to verify their identities, they could show the world that they’re disease-free and ready to flee. Or at least ready to return to work.

Axios reported that the company, Onfido, is in talks with at least one European government to develop phone-based passports, a spin on a similar idea being tried in China.

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But like all corona-centric tech, there are a LOT of questions

They start with the puzzle of immunity itself. 

The UK promoted antibody tests as a way to kickstart its stalled economy, but found that the tests are far from perfect

If the tests detect some antibodies, but not the ones specific to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the disease — they could trigger false positives. And a false sense of security.

It’s also not yet clear how long someone’s immunity actually lasts. South Korea and a few other countries have seen reports of patients testing positive for COVID-19 twice — and researchers aren’t totally sure why.

Then there are the ethical concerns

Privacy experts and civil-liberties advocates worry that an over-reliance on the certificates could improperly limit people’s freedom of movement, or encourage people to ***shudder*** infect themselves. 

Health experts don’t want the “coronavirus party” to become the next “chickenpox party.” That’s one invitation they’d rather you leave in the mail.

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