Contact-Tracing Apps as Boundary Objects of Pandemic Governance: The State-by-State Approach to Contain the Spread of COVID-19 in the United States

Eugene Jang, Jeeyun (Sophia) Baik, Katrin Fischer


Digital contact tracing has been claimed as imperative to controlling the spread of COVID-19. However, the state-by-state approach in the United States led to divergences in contact tracing. This study analyzed contact-tracing apps as “boundary objects” through which each state worked toward the governance of the pandemic without having a formal consensus. Through media coverage and walkthrough analyses of three digital contact-tracing apps in Alabama, California, and New York, we closely investigated both convergences and divergences of the apps. In the process, we located the implications of Google/Apple’s Bluetooth-based exposure notification system for digital contact tracing within and beyond state boundaries. Our findings suggest that the development of apps shared the notion of an ideal contact-tracing method—exposure notification—while each state was also situated in their local experiences of the pandemic as reflected in distinct app features. We further discuss the implications of techno-solutionist standardization of such digital contact-tracing apps.


COVID-19, contact tracing, mobile apps, walkthrough, boundary object, sociotechnical assemblages, pandemic governance

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