Why PaperKite created Rippl – a privacy-first digital solution for Covid-19 contact tracing

At PaperKite we care about supporting local businesses, customer privacy, better digital experiences, and getting through Covid-19 together. So that's why we put heads together with hospitality superstars posBoss and made Rippl: privacy-first contact tracing, designed for Hospitality, with zero admin.

Cafes are where life happens in NZ

Last time I sat in Prefab cafe on Jessie St, here in the capital, I found myself pondering about how much of life takes place there. Looking around (respectfully of course), you’d see people connecting in all sorts of ways – from job interviews and picking up their daily coffee, to first dates, remote working for the morning, negotiating a deal, or simply patting someone’s cool dog (my favourite).

After moving here almost a decade ago, cafe culture is one of the subtle yet profound reasons that New Zealand is still my chosen home.

And in the wake of Covid-19, there’s a very real threat of these businesses disappearing. 

Alert Level 3 has enabled a number of venues to open up safely, using contactless approaches for ordering, pick up and delivery. But they’re going to need more help to ensure they meet contact tracing requirements in order to safely reopen their doors. They’re our clients, they’re our friends, they’re an integral part of how we live; and that’s why we felt compelled to help.

We were compelled to find a way to help

Businesses reopening from Alert Level 3 require a plan that facilitates contact tracing in the event that their workplace is exposed to a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19. Hospo friend Jonny McKenzie, Founder of posBoss – a Point-of-Sale solution for Hospo – suggested we team up on a quick digital solution to help hospitality businesses avoid the administrative burden of pen-and-paper records as their only option.

Having created digital contactless experiences for a number of key clients in hospitality and food retail, we were well positioned to rapidly implement a pragmatic solution, and join the same mission that’s inspired initiatives like sosbusiness.nz and Manaaki (a love letter to NZ small business).

We need to talk about Contact Tracing (and privacy)

Governments around the world continue to grapple with the complexities of balancing privacy against utility, and the feasibility of unproven Bluetooth-based approaches. So it’s becoming clear that we may be waiting a while before NZ has a single reliable solution that garners public trust.

Preserving privacy appears a major challenge impacting the uptake of digital contact tracing solutions.

Jonny of posBoss even noted that pen-and-paper registration was enough to turn customers off:

“just before Level 4, the biggest barrier for so many in giving their contact details was concern about getting spammed – enough to leave and try somewhere else”

So while we await the Ministry of Health’s wider-targeted app-based solution, we’ve decided to contribute to the Ministry’s overall cause. Specifically, to support the hospo businesses we love, without compromising consumer privacy.

And as a result, we’ve created Rippl.

Introducing Rippl: privacy-first contact tracing…

…that’s designed for hospo, with zero admin. All you need to be compliant with Government guidance.

Rippl is an app-based solution, with a built-in scanner, for users to check in and out of venues they visit, by scanning the venue’s QR code. Venues first register with Rippl to get their unique code, and staff verify that users have checked in on their Rippl app before they can be served. Rippl users can even check in and out of venues offline, without the need for internet access.

Critically, users never share any personal details with Rippl.

Instead, Rippl helps users keep a private digital log of their visits. And should the Ministry of Health identify that there’s been a presence of infection at a given venue during a given timeframe, Rippl can alert any users who have visited the venue during that time, so they can perform their civic duty and contact the Ministry of Health to support the country’s contact tracing efforts.

Here’s how Rippl works:

Our strategy has been to put user privacy first, in creating a simple, single-purpose digital solution, focused on the national mission to stamp out the virus. By using Rippl, Kiwis can responsibly support and enjoy their local cafes, bars, and restaurants, and business owners can be compliant with zero administration effort.

Leveraging our relationship with digital leaders at the Ministry of Health has been invaluable in steering our solution design, with the intent to help Rippl dovetail into the Ministry’s wider overall digital response.

The solution is an ecosystem, not a silver bullet

Given the challenges with gaining widespread adoption of a national app solution, the widely reported limitations of Bluetooth-based approaches, plus the admin and privacy burdens of creating and securing containers of contact information, this is clearly a complex problem with no simple answer, no silver bullet yet emerging.

On a possible contact tracing app, [Prime Minister] Ardern said 

“We cannot rely on this, we cannot place all our eggs in one basket”

We see an opportunity for the Government to enable an entire ecosystem of research, innovation and companies to contribute solutions. An accessible yet strictly controlled Government interface would help tether digital creativity to the Government’s wider approach to contact tracing, and help guide responsible data privacy practice.

Rippl isn’t intended to be a silver bullet solution for contact tracing, but it is our hope that it can make a significant contribution to helping New Zealand recover as we all look forward to settling into a new normal.

When Amazon allegedly copied Allbirds with their home-rolled brand of wool runners, Allbirds open sourced their patent on sustainable plastic, saying “please steal our approach to sustainability too”. The takeaway? Achieving the mission is more important than the success of any one solution, no matter how we get there. And we hope our ripples will help make some bigger waves.

In any case, I hope you’ll look out for your local hospo business. And say hello the next time you see me at Prefab. Stay safe all.