Coronavirus: EU and Australian tracing apps ‘ready in weeks’

Coronavirus: EU and Australian tracing apps 'ready in weeks'

Coronavirus: EU and Australian tracing apps ‘ready in weeks’

Coronavirus apps will be rolled out in Europe and Australia in the next two to four weeks, officials say.

German health minister Jens Spahn said his country’s app would be ready to download in three to four weeks.

Meanwhile, Australia and Denmark plan to deploy the apps within two weeks.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the use of the app would be voluntary in the beginning, but he did not rule out making it mandatory.

Contact tracking apps have been developed by several countries around the world.

They typically use Bluetooth or satellite location data to record who a person was in the immediate vicinity.

This information can then be used to inform app users if someone they met falls ill with Covid-19 and declares their status in the app.

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Two people support phones that run the TraceTogether app in Singapore

Copyright of the image / Getty Images

But such location technology has raised concerns that it could be misused for mass surveillance, given the large percentage of the population that needs to install it for it to work effectively.

Australia’s rapid development is in part due to basing it on an existing app called TraceTogether, which has already been distributed in Singapore.

Morrison said his government is finalizing legal privacy issues.

He declined to say whether the use of the app would be made mandatory in the future.

“I will ask the Australians to do it, frankly, as a matter of national service,” Morrison said on Triple M.

“This would be something they might not normally do in normal time, but this is not normal time.

“If you download this app, you will help save someone’s life.

[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” class=”” width=””]Australia’s app is believed to be based on the one already used in Singapore[/box]

EU privacy laws

EU member states such as Germany are wary of how to develop location technology after warnings from the EU executive that privacy and security regulations must be followed.

Spahn said that German app developers were working to make privacy tools “as perfect as possible”.

Doing so would have been “more like three or four weeks rather than two weeks” before the app was released. Germany says that the use of its app will be voluntary.

Denmark will release an app in the coming weeks developed by Netcompany, which employs around 400 people in the UK. It will use Bluetooth to detect contact with people within one or two meters. The company says authorities will only be able to access the data on an aggregate and pseudo-anonymized level, making it impossible to track an individual, the company says.

In Italy, the development of a national contact tracking app was outsourced to Bending Spoons, an app maker based in Milan. The plan is to test the tracking app in some regions before implementing it nationally, although no timeline has been set.

The start-up, which created apps for fitness, sleep and play, was chosen from hundreds of candidates.

It is also part of the pan-European initiative for monitoring the proximity of privacy conservation (PEPP-PT), which is attempting to create a system that works beyond national borders while preserving the maximum possible privacy and security. German officials also supported the initiative.

 

The idea is that a person traveling from one European country to another would still be able to receive or activate an alert, regardless of the national tracking app they are using.

The logs, collected by Bluetooth, would be archived anonymously and encrypted, PEPP-PT said in a briefing earlier this month.

“Even if data stored in national data centers is sued or if a hacker steals it, there is no way to track down patients or contact people,” said Chris Boos, one of the project coordinators.

This is important because of the huge scale at which the app needs to be deployed to be more effective.

Mass surveillance

Singapore’s implementation of the TraceTogether app was reportedly only adopted by 10% -20% of the population.

Australian officials say they will need at least 40% of people to use their app for it to be effective.

Other experts say that 60% of the population must install the app and British experts who advise the government say that this equates to 80% of all smartphones in the country.

Concerns about potential abuse by national authorities and intelligence agencies have led to bodies such as PEPP-PT to support an anonymous approach via Bluetooth.

In April, Apple and Google announced that they were working together to create a platform that could be used by various national apps.

 

Google develops the Android mobile operating system, while Apple produces iOS for the iPhone.

Together, the Android and iOS software powers most smartphones on the planet.

PEPP-PT Boos said collaboration seems to be a good idea, although there are several points to discuss,

“Google and Apple are very open in these decisions and it doesn’t make sense to stand up,” he said. But the project opens up operating system features like Bluetooth control, something he said “we really appreciate.”

But he denied that the collaboration of the software giants replaced the initiative at European level.

“Do you still need PEPP-PT? Yes, it does,” he said. “Google and Apple are providing a small brick.”

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