This is the dilemma at the heart of all attempts to use mobile technology for the epidemiological good of the world. Fortunately, there is a growing consensus that a decentralized approach, which does not involve tracking the location and movements of individuals, is the best way to balance these interests.
Leadership in this area has been demonstrated by the two companies that own the platforms on which almost all phones operate: Google and Apple. A few weeks ago, they met to announce a joint effort in this regard and to make it available to national governments. However, not everyone liked the idea, with France demanding that Apple relax its privacy rules for some sort of EU spy app.
France probably hoped that its main partner at the EU summit, Germany, would have supported its call. But the Germans still have a more pragmatic peloton, and over the weekend the German government announced that it was abandoning the clever plan unveiled by a bunch of Euro techies earlier this month, in favor of an approach decentralized, effectively endorsing the Apple / Google Method.
How interesting the German decision also contradicts the recently published EU guidelines on this kind of thing will be interesting, but it certainly seems to offer less access and state control over user data than the continental bureaucracy would not have wished. On the other hand, it seems to adhere to the concept proposed by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, which maintains that you do not need to follow the location to perform effective contact tracking.
It may sound counterintuitive, but only if you think that the purpose of such technology is to control the movements of people suspected of being infectious, the kind of thing that repressive states like China would have no problem with. to lock people up in their homes or whatever. The most democratic way is to make a voluntary downloadable application available, which uses Bluetooth to track other phones that have approached it. Users of the application can then voluntarily report their suspected infection so that those with whom they have been in contact are informed.
For example, it seems to be the kind of thing the Australian government has come up with in the form of an app called COVIDSafe. It was only made available yesterday and already has over a million downloads, which shows that you don’t have to force people into the collective effort. However, there have been concerns that the source code for the application has not been made public, but apparently it will do so in a timely manner and the experts, on the whole, do not appear to be worried.
In the absence of widespread testing, using technology to let people know when they have been in contact with someone who reports symptoms is one of the best ways to limit the spread. of coronavirus in free countries. It’s great to see tech companies, governments and various experts coming to a consensus on best practices so quickly and we look forward to the release of a UK version of this type of app as soon as possible.