Frequently Asked Questions

Why did you create MaskCount™? What do you hope will happen if people use it?

  • While the use of masks is hotly debated, more and more evidence indicates that wearing a mask is one of the best ways we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (and many other diseases). This is why so many countries, states, counties and companies have created policies to encourage or require the wearing of masks. Despite this, we know very little about how people actually use masks in real life. As researchers and public health professionals, we are always seeking better data to base our decisions upon.
  • As we know from other examples, today’s technology can help us share data in easy and safe ways that help us make better decisions — from finding the quickest route based on real-time traffic patterns to deciding where to eat based on reviews from other diners.
  • As a group of researchers with expertise at the intersection of health informatics and public health, we have been working since the start of the pandemic to analyze data from many sources so we can better understand the pandemic and help develop responses to contain and control the spread. Unfortunately, the data on mask-wearing is very limited today. Even the few studies that have been done are mainly based on surveys or very small samples of people, in a few locations, during a limited time period. What we need are better data from many places and points in time so that we can better understand the effects of policies and mask wearing on outbreaks or containment efforts.
  • Importantly, we kept hearing from so many people, including non-scientists, who wanted to do something to help.
  • So, we decided to create an app that makes it easy for anyone to simply document and share what they see about mask-wearing behavior when out in public. By doing so, we hope to enable many people to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 by becoming citizen-scientists and joining together!

What if I’m a researcher and want to use MaskCount™ for my research project?

  • While we built MaskCount™ so that individuals can easily contribute data as a citizen scientist, we also built-in features to allow researchers, public health agencies, and other groups (e.g. schools, companies, etc.) to create “teams” and invite people to join. We are finalizing our “teams” feature and are field testing it in limited release right now. We hope to have that feature ‘live’ very soon, and will add more information here as soon as it’s ready. If you’d like to join our mailing list and be alerted when we have an update about this or other new features, please let us know via the Contact Us form at the bottom of this page.

Has this project been reviewed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB)?

  • The Indiana University Institutional Review Board, that reviews scientific projects involving human subjects, reviewed the MaskCount app protocol and determined that this research project was low risk and met criteria to be ‘exempt’ from ongoing human subjects research oversight.

What is being tracked when I use the app, start a new session, and capture observations?

  • To use MaskCount™, you agree to share some key information with us: (a) Some basic information about you – like the email address associated with your chosen login account, your name as provided by you, and your phone number if you provide it; (b) Location data – each time you start a new session or record an observation, you also share your device’s geo-location (e.g. location on a map of the world). Your location is also updated and sent each time you record a new “mask” or “no mask” observation. Your final location is recorded as the location of the last observation you entered; (c) Beyond that, we also capture any notes you provide and some additional basic information about your device, browser, etc. to help us improve the MaskCount™ app. More information about what we capture can be found in our Privacy Policy.

What will you do with the data, and who will be able to access it?

  • At the Regenstrief Institute, we have a long history of being responsible for the storage and use of sensitive healthcare data to conduct and enable research and improve public health. Doing so requires that we protect the integrity and privacy of those whose data we manage, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
  • The data we collect through MaskCount™ is combined (aggregated) and used by data scientists, public health researchers, and others for analyses to help better understand the pandemic. That is the main purpose of collecting these data. In addition to researchers at the Regenstrief Institute, we may also partner with external research organizations, public health agencies, and others with an interest in better understanding and responding to the pandemic, and we may share some of the data we collect with them.
  • We also display data in a few different ways to help inform individuals and groups about what we find with the goal of helping inform and improve the health of individuals and the public.
      • As an individual user, you can view your own data in detail under the “My Sessions” section of the App.
      • Registered users can also view aggregate counts of their own and others’ data via the “Around Me” section of the App. The data are displayed as aggregate counts and percentages grouped into geographic boxes that vary depending on your level of magnification on a map. Even at the closest street-level of magnification we do this to obscure exact locations, but still present the percentages captured by MaskCounters in that area.
      • The general public can also view data via our Website’s dashboard. Similar to the “Around Me” function, data on this dashboard will display data in aggregate form and not allow exact address identification for any given data point. We keep working on this feature, and over time, we plan to add capabilities to filter and view the data in different ways that may also overlay other relevant data.
  • Since we also expect that certain people and organizations may want to download and view, analyze, and perhaps combine some of these data with other data for their own purposes, we are also working to enable others with the ability to download aggregate MaskCount™ data. We hope to have that feature ‘live’ very soon, and will add more information here as soon as it’s ready. If you’d like to join our mailing list and be alerted when we have an update about this or other new features, , please let us know via the Contact Us form at the bottom of this page.
  • Once the “teams” feature is active, those who opt to be part of a team(s) will also agree to share their data with the leaders of said team(s) while they are members.

Will anyone using the app or accessing the website know who I am or who the people are that I’m observing?

  • Absolutely not. We take your privacy and the privacy of the public very seriously. Other than the administrator of MaskCount™ and the leaders of any “team” that you choose to join, other users or the general public will not know who you are unless you tell them. More about your rights and what we do with your data can be found in our terms and conditions and privacy policy. As for the people you observe, the only thing you are collecting and sending regarding those whose behavior you observe are simple counts of those wearing or not wearing masks.

What about people who worry this is really just a way to point out who’s behaving badly?

  • MaskCount™ is not about reporting “good” or “bad” behavior. It is about documenting what is happening to help generate scientific evidence that can help us understand how to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In fact, we recognize that there are times where it is perfectly safe and appropriate to not wear a mask even out in public – such as when someone is outdoors and safely distanced from others. Also, as we discuss elsewhere in this FAQ and in our privacy policy, we designed the app to have no way of identifying who is or is not wearing masks, only to have users report counts of those they see.

This is a Web App. How do I make it look and function like a native app on my device?

  • While we plan to release versions of MaskCount™ as native apps for such platforms as iOS and Android in the future, we developed this as a Web App to (a) speed our time to release given the urgency of the pandemic, and (b) to ensure this was available for as many users as possible across multiple devices.
  • In the meantime, you can make this App behave more like a native app on your device by “installing” the Web app on your device’s home screen. We recommend you do so as it creates a much better experience.
  • If you do not know how to add this Web App to your device, you can view instructions for popular devices by following the links below. You can also perform an Internet search for instructions by searching for “Add a Web App to my (insert device name here) home screen.”
  • For example, here are some basic instructions for “installing” MaskCount™ on an iPhone or Android.
    • For iOS (iPhone or iPad):
      • Open app.maskcount.com in Safari. (you can’t do this with other browsers like Chrome on an iPhone)
      • Tap the “Share” button at the bottom of the main login page (it’s the one that looks like a square with an arrow pointing up)
      • In the menu that appears, scroll down and tap “Add to Home Screen.”
      • Next, you can choose to change the name (we recommend you don’t), then click “Add”
      • MaskCount™ should now appear as a new App on your Home Screen. (Depending on how many apps you have, you may have to scroll through your screens to find where it was added)
      • Now, tap this icon to “launch” Maskcount™ and log in to the app using your preferred method. (You may have to log in, accept terms and conditions, and grant location sharing permissions again.)
      • From now on, use this new App as the preferred way to use MaskCount™. New versions should automatically update when they are released.
    • For Android:
      • Open app.maskcount.com in Chrome” app.
      • Tap the menu icon (3 dots in upper right-hand corner) and tap Add to homescreen.
      • Enter a name for the shortcut (MaskCount), and Chrome should add a MaskCount icon to your Home Screen.
      • MaskCount™ should now appear as a new App on your Home Screen.
      • Now, tap this new App icon to “launch” Maskcount™ and log in to the app using your preferred method. (You may have to log in, accept terms and conditions, and grant location sharing permissions again.)
      • From now on, use this App as the preferred way to use MaskCount™. New versions should automatically update when they are released.

I see the App is available in multiple languages, but some of the translations seem wrong. Can those be corrected?

  • This pandemic is global and it will take all of us working together to address it. So, from day one, we wanted this to be ready for international use. To create the translations to multiple languages, we used automatic translation services, and sometimes the output is not perfect. While we worked with some native speakers to proofread the text for a few languages, we could not do so for all. If you have suggestions for what we can correct, please feel free to send them to us using the Contact Us form below, and we will continue working to improve the app. Thank you!

I’m getting an error when I try to log in or start a session that I can’t proceed because I’m not sharing my location. How do I fix that?

  • This error usually means that either (a) you had previously denied location sharing access to your device’s browser, or (b) you declined to allow location sharing when loading MaskCount™. Either way, this probably is easily corrected by going to your device’s Settings, finding and changing the privacy settings that allow sharing of your location with the browser you are using (if you saved MaskCount™ as an app on an iPhone, that browser would be Safari). Each device is a bit different, so if you are not sure how to change those settings, please search “changing location sharing preferences on my (insert device name here)” using your favorite internet search engine.

When I try to log in using my preferred social media account, the App says that my access is denied.

  • This usually means that you have declined to allow your social media account to authenticate you to MaskCount™. If so, you may have to change that setting in your social media platform. Consult with “help” sections on the social media account to determine how to do so. Of course, you can always log in with another account, but if the email accounts are different, you may not see your previous sessions. However, if you use the same email address across your social media accounts, you should see the same session history and any team(s) you’ve joined regardless which you use.

 

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