European health and public authorities are improving applications for contact tracing as a new wave of 19 cases of Covida has spread in the region and new blockades have been put in place.

Officials who control the tools say the problems vary depending on privacy concerns, the difficulty of understanding how people use the application, and the reluctance of citizens to download the application.

Data protection is not something that comes to mind when someone is developing an application, said Victor Claws, a senior specialist at the Dutch Data Protection Authority, at a conference organised by the European Data Protection Agency last week. The Dutch CoronaMelder application is available nationwide as of this month and uses technology developed by
Alphabet
Inc.
Google and
Apple
Inc.

Many European countries currently use Google and Apple technologies, as well as 10 states in the United States, including New York and Pennsylvania. Government agencies in several European countries have argued that technology can help protect users’ privacy because it works with random codes that do not reveal a person’s identity. These applications also store most of the data directly on users’ mobile phones and send only part of the information to a central server.

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But Mr. Claws sees the problem. For example, the technology may still affect the privacy of users, because you can see who receives multiple random codes indicating that they are close to other users with a positive Covid 19 diagnosis.

We must refrain from making anonymous calls, Mr Claws.

Other countries that implemented applications a few months ago have added features that will help them evaluate application performance. This can be difficult because the privacy protection built into Google and Apple prevents authorities from seeing the details that are useful in these reviews.

For example, users of the Danish application Smittestopp can voluntarily report to this application if their coronavirus test is positive. As the number of infections in Denmark increases, the authorities are seeing more and more people reporting this information, said Birgitta Drewes, Director of the Danish Patient Safety Authority, at another conference organised by the European Network and Computer Safety Agency last week.

Looking for unit

European countries have different approaches to Covid-19 monitoring applications.

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Not with Google-Apple

Started as part of Google-Apple.

People who sign up for a virus test on a public website can voluntarily inform the authorities if they have been informed in advance of the presence of an infected person. A higher percentage of people who were later informed of a positive test than those who were later informed of a positive test but did not receive notification of the application and received the test for another reason, Drewse said. This shows that application technology works by informing those at risk, she said.

We had to create a different reporting structure because we can’t get any data out of the application, she said.

Authorities measure the success of an application by the number of people that download it. But in some countries it hasn’t been easy. In April, the European Data Protection Co-ordination Group issued guidelines stating that contact tracing requests should be voluntary and that users should always have control over their data.

France re-launched its StopCovid application last week under the new name TousAntiCovid, after less than three million people in a country with about 70 million inhabitants had downloaded this application. According to the government, at least 20% of the population must use the scheme to be effective.

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Portuguese Covid tender remains alive. Attempt to make registration mandatory for a quick search.

Photo:

Patricia de melo moreira/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

This month the Portuguese government proposed to make Stayaway Covid’s application mandatory, but it rejected the idea in less than a week, despite widespread criticism. Approximately 2.4 million people have downloaded the application since its launch in September.

The widespread use of Google and Apple technologies is disappointing for some European data protection authorities and government officials. France does not use it, but other European countries that have applications use it.

We still don’t know what’s under the hood, said Vitor Bernardo, who until last month was an official in the office of the Portuguese Data Protection Authority and now works in the European Regulators Group.

According to Digital Policy Advisor to Latvian President Iev Ilves, users of the Latvian application received confusing messages that led them to believe they could be in danger. According to her, the reports were about the possible impact of user panic, even though the warnings were only standard updates on how Google and Apple technologies work.

However, frightened users flood the health authorities with phone calls for consultation, she said. According to Mrs Ilves, after lengthy correspondence, the companies changed their notifications.

You find yourself in such a confusing situation when you realize you have no legal or technical means to influence it, she said. All you can do is write emails saying it doesn’t make sense.

Write to Catherine Stepp at [email protected]

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