As countries begin to emerge from lockdown, the relaxing of restrictions has seen governments around the world introduce smartphone contact tracing apps in order to limit and control the spread of COVID-19.
In this article, we take a look at countries which have adopted contact tracing apps, and look at how these apps compare.
Two common criticisms of contact tracing apps have so far been how personal data is collected, stored and used, as well as usability issues.
NHSX has taken a ‘centralised’ approach of collecting data contacts, opposed to the decentralised approach where Apple and Google have combined.
The NHSX approach means when a user of the app becomes symptomatic they upload the data to a government server.
There has been scepticism about what will happen to their data post-COVID-19, however CEO of NHSX, Matthew Gould states the data will only be used by the NHS, and for potential research purposes if consent is provided.
The government has announced that it will be rolling out a Bluetooth-style contact tracing app over the next few weeks. Features of the app include the ability to report symptoms and order a swab test, which differs from other apps developed by other countries.
As of yesterday, a test version of the app has been published to Apple and Google app stores and is to be first tested in the Isle of Wight. Today, council staff and healthcare workers on the Isle will be able to install it before an island-wide roll out on Thursday.
The app uses Bluetooth signals to detect when two smartphones are near to each other. If one user late registers as being infected, it will alert all other users who have been in distance of the infected user’s smartphone.
On the initial interface, the app first introduces its aims. Following that, the next screen asks the user for their home postcode. The third screen asks the user to enable permissions for Bluetooth and push notifications.
For obvious reasons, the app cannot function without Bluetooth and notifications enabled. Therefore, in order to use the app, a user must agree to have both enabled.
Further screens on the app ask the user health related questions such as ‘how are you feeling today?’ and the option to read current COVID-19 advice. ‘Do you have a high temperature?’ and ‘Do you have a continuous cough?’ is also asked, with only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers available to select.
The UK, along with France and Norway are using a centralised server to hold data.
Italy and Germany have launched apps that will avoid location tracking and a centralised database in favour of decentralisation.
Both countries have opted to use Apple and Google standards along with Switzerland and Austria.
There have been differences of opinion across Europe regarding technical approaches to be used in contact tracing apps, which raises the question of interoperability issues between platforms.
Non-interoperable platforms run the risk of spread of COVID-19 when borders reopen. For example, crossing the border from Germany to France mixes two nationalities with potentially incompatible tracing apps.
Italy’s contact tracing app has been named ‘Immuni’, developed by ‘Bending Spoons’ based in Milan, which uses Bluetooth.
It differs from Norway’s ‘Smittestropp’ app, launched back in mid-April, which uses GPS in conjunction with Bluetooth.
The French app called ‘StopCovid’ is said to be available by May 11th when the French lockdown will start to be lifted.
French experts have stated that their centralised model is more secure than Apple-Google’s standard.
Israel did attempt contact tracing by tracking the movements of people by their phone location, but the supreme court ruled it needed legislative backing.
The app records GPS and wifi information and compares it to people who have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 and then alerts the people required.
The country referenced favourable yesterday in the Government daily briefing, South Korea is using a tracing app which uses local phone data. There has been concerns raised of the amount of data collected.
The contact tracing app was rolled out as Wuhan lifted its lockdown back in early April.
The app has been amalgamated into WeChat and AliPay software, where one or both are widely used in China.
The app uses augmented reality; the ability to scan QR codes, which is common place in China, in order to allow a person into certain areas.
For example, on a train from Nanjing to Shanghai airport, the user must scan a QR code situated on the armrest of the train chair, using the contact tracing app, and answer questions about their health.
Once completed, the user receives a colour code based on the potential likelihood of being infected with COVID-19.
The app then works the same way as stated above in other countries; users are alerted if they have been in contact with a potentially infected person.
Essentially, the app provides the user with a digital health passport which should be presented when asked for by the authorities.
Red and amber mean the user cannot board transport as well as other restrictions, whereas green means a clean bill of health and freedom of movement.
The app is tied to a user’s identification and is mandatory.
‘Covidsafe’ was released last weekend and is available from the Australian Apple Store and Google Play Store. The app is also available from the Australian Government’s Covidsafe app page.
A user’s name, age range, postcode and phone number are entered and stored. The user’s information is then passed on to state and territory health authorities should someone who the user has come into contact with tests positive.
If someone is infected with coronavirus, they then use the app to consent to upload the list of anonymised IDs for the past 14 days of contact for contact tracing. It uses signal strength and other data then to work out who needs to be contacted.
The federal government holds personal data on Amazon Web Services and the app does not track the user’s location and is not mandatory.
However the app will not work on phones operating older software than iOS 10 and Android 6.0.
India’s version of the contact tracing app is called ‘Aarogya Setu’, it has been reported that over 75 million people have downloaded the app in a month.
The Indian government announced on Friday that all workers, both in the public and private sectors, are required to install the nation’s COVID-19 contact tracing app .
The problem facing the Indian app is that more people in India use feature phones, or non-smartphones on 2G networks. The government is reported to be developing an app that works across most platforms.