Coronavirus: EU Sets Out Guidance For Covid-19 Tracking App

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European Commission publishes detailed guidance for EU member states developing their own Coronavirus tracking and warning apps

The European Commission has published its guidance for EU member states, which are developing Coronavirus tracing and warning apps, to follow.

The guidance has been issued after the EC last week issued a call for member states to adopt a unified approach in the use of digital technologies and mobile applications, amid the current global pandemic.

The rules are contained in the 44 page ‘toolbox’, which has been developed by the e-Health Network, “is intended as a practical guide to implementing digital tools for tracking close contacts between device carriers as a proxy for infection risk that seeks to steer Member States in a common, privacy-sensitive direction as they configure their digital responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

coronavirus Image credit: World Health Organisation
Image credit: World Health Organisation

No location data

The European Commission made clear that any apps developed by nation states should not collect user location data and the use of the app should be voluntary.

Mobile apps tracking Covid-19 hotspots typically utilise location data, and have raised concerns among privacy-conscious Europeans.

A study by researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute said that about two-thirds of a country’s population would need to be involved for contact tracing to be effective.

“Location data is not necessary nor recommended for the purpose of contact tracing apps, as their goal is not to follow the movements of individuals or to enforce prescriptions,” the Commission document said.

The European Commission was also quoted by Reuters as saying that further said mobile apps should be based on anonymised data and work with other apps in other EU countries.

It said public health authorities will assess the effectiveness of such apps by the end of the month, with EU countries expected to share the feedback in May. A progress report will be published in June.

“Strong privacy safeguards are a prerequisite for the uptake of these apps, and therefore their usefulness,” European digital chief Thierry Breton said in a statement.

Individual countries

The United Kingdom confirmed this week that it is developing a Covid-19 tracking app, that will warn people if they have recently been in close proximity to someone suspected to be infected with the coronavirus.

Germany has said that its coronavirus contact tracing app will be ready for download and use in three to four weeks.

Italy meanwhile said that it is testing a smartphone app developed by tech start-up Bending Spoons to track people who test positive for the new coronavirus, as part of efforts to lift its nationwide lockdown.

Apple and Google are jointly developing technology that could assist governments in tracking the spread of Covid-19 through the use of the Bluetooth technology built into smartphones.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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