European Coronavirus Tracing App Scheme Gets Governments’ Backing

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Contact tracing apps are set to arrive in Europe and elsewhere in the coming weeks, with authorities hoping they could help lift Covid-19 restrictions

A plan for a coronavirus-tracing app that originated in Germany is gaining the support of governments across the European Union, a developer has said.

Chris Boos, a German tech entrepreneur who is one of the initiators of the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) project, said seven countries are now either formally supporting the scheme or have engaged a company that’s part of PEPP-PT to develop a national contact-tracing app.

Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Malta, Spain and Switzerland are among the countries supporting PEPP-PT, with another 40 countries registered and in the process of being brought onboard, Boos said.

“A lot of larger countries have dedicated their app teams to build on top of what we’re supplying,” Boos, who is the founder of business automation start-up Arago, told Reuters.

Contact tracing

More than 200 scientists and technologists are working on PEPP-PT, which is designed as an underlying technology upon which national apps can be built.

The progress of contact tracing apps is being keenly watched, as they are considered one of the enabling factors that could assist countries in lifting their Covid-19 lockdowns.

Contact tracing apps typically run on a smartphone and track whom a user has been in proximity with.

When an individual is found to be infected with the novel coronavirus, the app can alert those whom the person has come into contact with, assisting authorities in isolating the virus and stopping it from spreading.

The use of a common underlying scheme, such as that proposed by PEPP-PT, would mean apps are interoperable and could work across borders.

In Western countries, the contact tracing apps currently in development generally use technologies such as Bluetooth to sense other devices in the vicinity and anonymise all data.

The EU last week issued guidance for member states’ contact tracing apps, saying they should not involve location data and should be voluntary.

Privacy

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

The United Kingdom confirmed last week it is has a Covid-19 tracking app under development, while Germany has said that its app will be ready for download and use in three to four weeks, while Italy is testing a tracing app developed by tech start-up Bending Spoons, a member of PEPP-PT.

Australia has said its app should be ready within two weeks, as it is based on the TraceTogether software already deployed in Singapore.  Denmark said it also expects its app, developed by software firm Netcompany, to be ready within two weeks.

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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