Technologists are rushing to use short-range Bluetooth communications between devices as a proxy to measure the risk that someone infected with coronavirus can transmit it.
Apple (AAPL.O) and Alphabet (GOOGL.O) Google announced last week that it will launch tools to support such applications in May, with full integration of Bluetooth contact tracking features into their operating systems.
Chris Boos, who defends the pan-European technology platform for preserving confidentiality (PEPP-PT https://www.pepp-pt.org), says it can help shorten the path to deployment.
“We need to worry less about operating system stability and device calibration,” said Boos, founder of German business process automation start-up Arago, in written responses to Reuters.
PEPP-PT plans to update progress on Friday.
Coronavirus can be spread by people with no symptoms, which increases the urgency of efforts once an individual is positive to break the chain of infection.
Digital technology can help give people targeted warnings to see their doctors or isolate themselves, supporters say, reducing the need for lockouts that have caused huge economic disruption.
Supporters of Bluetooth say it would be a more accurate and less intrusive way to record proximity and duration of personal contact than location tracking based on networks or satellites.
But a gap has grown between proponents of decentralized systems – including Apple and Google – and proponents of a centralized approach in which sensitive data is kept on a server. The latter includes some governments, fearing that they will put citizens under surveillance.
PEPP-PT, developed in partnership with the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Germany and technologists from other European countries, would support both models.
“A centralized model offers much better pandemic management potential without compromising privacy,” said Boos.
“But it should be the choice of a country. You can collect the same data over a decentralized model – it just means that more people need to move data about the infected people. “
The PEPP-PT is in the process of being certified by the cybersecurity watchdog in Germany and has obtained the support of certain government officials from Chancellor Angela Merkel.
However, no decision has yet been made to approve an official contact finder app to run on PEPP-PT which experts say should be downloaded by at least 60% of the population to help reach the so-called digital herd immunity.
Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Alexander Smith
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