Default Options: A Powerful Behavioral Tool to Increase COVID-19 Contact Tracing App Acceptance in Latin America?

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Dec 2020
Being able to follow the chain of contagion of COVID-19 is important to help save lives and control the epidemic without sustained costly lockdowns. This is especially relevant in Latin America, where economic contractions have already been the largest in the regions history. Given the high rates of transmission of COVID-19, relying only in manual contact tracing might be infeasible. Acceptability and uptake of contact tracing apps with exposure notifications is key for the implementation the “test, trace and treat” triad. In the first study of its kind in Latin America, we find that for a nationally representative sample of 10 countries, an opt-out regime with automatic installation significantly increases the probability of acceptance of such apps in almost 22 p.p. compared to an opt-in regime with voluntary installation. This triples the size and is of opposite sign of the effect found in Europe and the United States. We see that an opt-out regime is more effective in increasing acceptability in South America compared to Central America and Mexico; for those who claim not to trust the national government; and for those who do not use their smartphones for financial transactions. The severity of the pandemic at the place of residence does not seem to affect the effectiveness of the opt-out regime versus an opt-in one, but feeling personally at risk does increase the willingness to accept contact tracing apps with exposure notifications in general. These results can shed light on the use of default options in public health in the context of a pandemic in Latin America.