Coronavirus: First Google/Apple-based contact-tracing app launched

Swiss app

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The EPFL institute in Lausanne helped develop the Swiss contact tracking app

The team that develops the Swiss coronavirus contact tracking app says it became the first to launch a product that incorporates technology provided by Apple and Google.

Members of the Swiss Armed Forces, hospital workers and civil servants can now install the SwissCovid app before a planned larger launch.

A Latvian coalition claims to be behind it.

But U.S. tech firms face criticism for their prescriptive approach.

Automatic contact tracking involves the use of smartphones to detect when two people are close to each other for a long enough time that there is a significant risk of contagion, so that one can be warned if the disease.

To use their API (application programming interface) – a software tool that offers special access to some functionality of their iOS and Android mobile operating systems – the two companies banned participants from collecting user location data, among other restrictions.

This means that apps that pursue a rival “centralized” model will continue to face circumstances in which iPhones fail to perform Bluetooth-based “handshakes”.

“The use of digital technologies must be designed in such a way that we, as democratically elected governments, evaluate it and judge it acceptable to our citizens and in accordance with our European values,” wrote German digital affairs ministers , French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese governments in a joint letter published in the press.

“We believe that challenging this right by imposing technical standards represents a misstep and a missed opportunity for open collaboration between governments and the private sector.”

The BBC asked Apple and Google for their answer.

The Swiss team, however, welcomed the involvement of the two companies.

“Bluetooth was not developed for this type of large-scale distance measurement,” said Professor Srdjan Capkun of the ETH institute.

“Making sure you can use it this way requires a lot of technical skill and collaboration, including collaboration with Apple and Google.”

App store

Apple and Google said last week that 22 countries, as well as some states in the United States, had requested access to its API.

Some, like the UK, are testing it as a backup of their independent projects, while others are quick to release apps based on it as soon as possible.

In the case of Switzerland, parliamentarians must first discuss and approve the system before it is offered to the public. The government hopes that this can be done by mid-June.

Supporters pointed out an opinion poll which suggests that 70% of Swiss residents support the initiative.

In contrast, the Latvian team – which also incorporated the API – is able to proceed without parliamentary vote and hopes to offer its Apturi Covid app to the public as soon as Thursday.

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Open Covid

Caption of the image

Local tech companies in Latvia have created the Apturi Covid app, based on the Apple and Google model

A spokesman told the BBC that Apple had already approved the software to appear on its App Store, but the developers were still waiting for permission to list it on the Google Play market.

“Of course we would be very happy to be the first [national launch]but the most important thing is to help our inhabitants fight the virus, “he added.

In other developments:

  • Health officials in the Chinese city of Hangzhou said they considered making the use of locals a contact tracking app a regular appointment beyond the current pandemic.
  • fewer Australians are using a local contact location app than officials hoped, the Guardian reports. He says the government is still considering whether to switch to the Apple-Google system
  • Israeli MPs have been told that smartphone surveillance technology used by the country’s security agency Shin Bet has helped identify more than 4,000 Covid-19 cases, according to the Ctech news site. However, the report also states that errors and malfunctions have occurred, which will need to be considered by a group of politicians as it assesses whether to extend the controversial agenda.

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