A Practical Guide On Covid-19 Tracking Apps
Covid-19 apps are being used in several countries as a preventive measure: it allows the identification of potential threatening contacts with people that contracted the virus, so the user can monitor symptoms and quarantine as early as possible.
Although this is a perfect example of how technology can help us keep attentive and safe, this type of apps aren’t fully trusted by users, considering that the majority doesn’t even understand completely how they work and what it implies to install them on their smartphones.
Considering users have to install the application voluntarily, we thought it would be interesting to explore the pros and cons of these polemic yet handy Covid-19 trackers. For reference, we’ll be using STAYAWAY COVID, the one that’s currently being used in Portugal and is available for both iOS and Android.
For starters, what does it do exactly?
The app’s main goal is to turn your smartphone into a device that identifies situations of proximity (less than 2 meters of distance during a 15 minute time frame) with other users and their own smartphones through your smartphone’s bluetooth. If one of the users is diagnosed with Covid-19 and registers it in the app, a notification will pop up on other users’ smartphones that have been in contact with the infected person.
The infected user can also identify manually everyone they’ve been in touch with in the last two weeks.
The app plays a major role in stopping contamination during the asymptomatic stage of the disease by allowing users that contacted an infected person to self quarantine, monitor symptoms carefully and get tested as early as possible.
How are they able to locate and track everyone?
STAYWAY COVID uses Bluetooth (specifically BLE), which usually communicates your presence to the surrounding devices. The application keeps those codes, crossing them with the information registered in the cloud, and validating if one of your last 14 days contacts has been diagnosed with Covid-19. The app accesses the public server once a day to run the codes of previous contacts using the user’s Wi-Fi or mobile data.
What type of data will they be collecting?
Supposedly, the app shouldn’t be collecting personal information – all data is completely anonymous and the codes produced are deleted after 14 days. These are rules defined by the European Commission however some of its evaluation showed faulty signals, even though the tracking doesn’t use GPS and does not collect data related to the user’s location and movement, and it has been built to protect the user’s identity with all information processes limited to the app. The system itself was also built to avoid any other external contact, in order to avoid unwanted notifications.
The official server STAYAWAY COVID uses is installed in Portugal and operated by an official institution regulated by European safety and privacy standards. In every country, there’s only one operational app using Google and Apple’s API, making said App the official one.
Once the app is deleted so is the data collected, and the European Commission also requested that all applications must be deactivated once the pandemic ends.
Since STAYAWAY COVID was created to be interoperable with similar existing or soon to be tools in Europe and outside of it, it’s possible to cross data with foregin one. The majority of these apps are developed based on the DP^3T architecture (Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing) that allow them to track the user without compromising their privacy.
Like any other device whose chore is to collect and handle users’ sensitive data, it raises some concerns, so it’s up to the user to make the choices that feel more comfortable. After all, this is just an extra safety measure tool to keep everyone safe and healthy.
As seen feature in Top App Development Companies of 2020 by Design Rush.
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