Latvia Set To Release Covid-19 App Based On Tech Companies’ Framework

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Latvia is aiming to be one of the first countries to release a Covid-19 contact-tracing app based on Apple and Google’s API, released only last week

Latvia is preparing to launch its Covid-19 contact-tracing app, one of the first to use a framework developed by Apple and Google.

The tech companies, whose iOS and Android operating systems run on 99 percent of all smartphones, launched their Exposure Notification API last week.

A number of countries across Europe and elsewhere are planning to use the firms’ built-in approach as the basis for their national contact-tracing apps.

The API uses a decentralised architecture in which all data is stored and processed on the device itself, and is not accessible to external third parties.

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

Privacy

That approach is designed to protect privacy, but it also means health authorities can’t gain insights into infection patterns by analysing the data – something the NHS has said is a priority.

“This strong privacy protection ensures that the app is fully GDPR compliant and that processing of the exposure notification protocol is decentralised,” said the developers of Latvia’s Apturi Covid, or “Stop Covid” app.

Latvia’s app is to be made available for voluntary download, with the country’s health authorities expecting initial take-up of around 20 percent of the population.

The app’s developers cited a University of Oxford study that found an uptake of 10 to 20 percent could have a positive impact on limiting the spread of the virus.

The app keeps track of whom the user has been in contact with for at least 15 minutes.  Then, when a new case of Covid-19 is confirmed, it notifies all of the patient’s contacts.

‘A step further’

”Thanks to restrictive measures and public participation, Latvia is the country with the third lowest incidence of Covid-19 in the European Union and low mortality, but we must not stop,” said Elina Dimina, head of the Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Immunisation Division of the Infectious Diseases Risk Analysis and Prevention Department.

“With the involvement of people and the use of modern technology, we can once again gain time and go a step further.”

The app was developed by LMT, the country’s largest mobile phone operator, along with software development firms, a software testing service, and experts from the University of Latvia, along with various state institutions.

Data furore

The UK and France are so far sticking with an approach that isn’t compatible with Apple’s Google’s API, in part to be able to better track virus hotspots.

The decision means their apps will not be able to run Bluetooth continuously in the background on Apple devices, a method that consumes minimal power.

Apple ordinarily disallows background Bluetooth monitoring for privacy reasons, but is allowing it for apps using the API.

The NHS has said its app performs acceptably well even under Apple’s restrictions.

The NHS is currently testing its app on the Isle of Wight and is planning to release it more broadly as soon as possible.

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