European countries form coalition over contact tracing app concerns

Several European countries, including Switzerland and Germany, require that all user data generated by coronavirus contact tracking applications be stored on the device, rather than aggregated on a centralized server.

As border restrictions are lifted, European countries are beginning to voice concerns over the ethical deployment of contact tracing applications. A new coalition, led by Switzerland and supported by countries like Germany, Austria, Finland and Italy, is concerned that contact tracing apps may be used to spy on citizens. They argue that data should be stored locally on a user’s device, rather than owned by public health officials.

This approach is consistent with the objectives and implementations provided by the Apple project and Google Exposure Notification. Apple and the Google API use Bluetooth tracking tokens stored on a user’s device to alert them when they are in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The coalition has established a roadmap for national applications to exchange data and manage infections when people travel abroad. The main objective is to help countries create a decentralized system that can always accurately alert those who may have been exposed to the virus.

The document states that everything must take place on a user’s device, from the generation of identifiers to the calculation of the risk of exposure. They also specify that all the applications must limit themselves to distributing positive data for COVID and do not disseminate any informationon from those who have not tested positive.

“Everything about these projects has been from day one on how to make it work internationally,” Marcel Salathe, digital epidemiologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told Reuters.

However, the United Kingdom and France argue that citizens should trust health authorities to store informationon on a central computer server. The UK National Health Service has announced that it will use its own centralized contract tracking system, rather than deploying exposure notification technology developed by Apple and Google.

Australia has taken a similar approach to user data, offering users the ability to upload their health data to a web server owned by Amazon Web Services.

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