The Renaming Story: From COVID SafePaths to PathCheck Foundation
On June 28, we officially announced a change that had been in the works for more than a month. We renamed our organization and technologies. Here is a quick summary:
- Our 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit has changed from “Path Check, Inc.” to “PathCheck Foundation.”
- We changed the main domain we use from covidsafepaths.org to pathcheck.org
- We changed the name of our GPS- and location-based app from “COVID SafePaths” to “PathCheck SafePlaces.” The contact tracing tools that work with SafePlaces are now called “PathCheck SafePlaces CT.”
- We’ve also changed the names and some of the URLs of our social channels. (You can find a table at the end of this post.)
The PathCheck open source community is now building a range of solutions, so we’ve established a way to describe the different combinations of technologies we’re releasing, including the following:
- PathCheck Platform refers to the new modular framework we’re developing that allows features to be dynamically added to apps built from the PathCheck code base or directly in an app after it has been deployed.
- With the introduction of support for the Google Apple Exposure Notification API, which does not allow for the use of other sensors on the phone, such as GPS, we now have two solutions built on the PathCheck Platform. We’re referring to these as the PathCheck GAEN solution and the PathCheck GPS+ solution. Read more about the GAEN solution and the GPS+ solution.
Finally, since we started, PathCheck Foundation has focused on the development of open source software as well as thought leadership (standards, policy proposals, and research). It’s important to call out that work; we’re now referring to that effort in research, collaboration, and standards as the PathCheck Community Think Tank.
Why the Change?
The best way to explain the change is to provide a little history. All our work began back in February 2020 at the MIT Media Lab. At MIT, a team working under Professor Ramesh Raskar’s leadership developed the first prototype of a privacy-preserving, GPS-based digital contact tracing application. They called this prototype “Private Kit: Safe Paths.” That work inspired the creation of a nonprofit organization to carry the effort forward, which was named Path Check, Inc.
With Path Check, Inc. in place, we decided to continue using the Safe Paths name from MIT and launched the next technology preview of the app as COVID SafePaths. We also used that name for our primary URL. Very quickly this effort expanded into a community of more than 1,500 volunteers and a growing suite of open source software, which brings us to the name changes.
We decided to make these changes now for three primary reasons.
First, SafePaths is already a registered trademark for a mobile health app, and we felt it was important to release the software we were building under a trademark we controlled. This is especially important with open source software. Controlling the trademark is a way to make sure people who make copies of the software (often called “forks”), which are not compliant with our standards and features, can’t use our trademark. That helps protect the quality of what is called PathCheck and preserves trust in the code.
Second, given that we very quickly need to build trust with millions and potentially billions of people, we want to make the naming simple. We were concerned that using “Inc.” suggested we might be a company. “Foundation” immediately conveys our nonprofit status. Moreover, keeping all the names aligned around a single trademark is more clear, and we hope it will build trust with users. We now have an app that uses the PathCheck brand, from an organization called PathCheck Foundation, with the web domain pathcheck.org. We hope this clearly conveys our commitment to trustworthiness and transparency.
Third, referring to ourselves as PathCheck Foundation not only broadcasts our nonprofit mission, but is also consistent with established patterns. This naming approach is common for organizations that support open source software, standards, and research. The name is similar to widely known examples such as Linux Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, and Apache Foundation.
It’s never easy to change a name, and we appreciate that our partners and community already know us as COVID SafePaths. Moreover, some have started to communicate that name to their constituents as pilots begin. However, despite the amazing progress in the last few months, we are still very much at the beginning of this journey, and we felt that now was the time to make the change. We appreciate the patience of our partners during this process.
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