In the world of the contact tracing app, Germany and Ireland have lead the way in terms of showing off their successful app development and deployment. However, what we have yet to see is any solid evidence that the apps are doing what they are specifically designed to do – warning people that they could be infected with Coronavirus.
There are also concerns arisen through the different levels of how privacy has been held in thought throughout the build and development of the apps and this could mean that we never really understand how effective they have been because of this shroud of privacy.
In June, the UK government quiety announced that they were going to ditch the idea of a centralised NHS contact-tracing app that they had been developing through the NHSx organisation; in order to adopt the decentralised Apple-Google collaboration toolkit. This model has been specifically earmarked by privacy campaigners as the matching process for how it will work, will be undertaken on the user’s smartphone rather than on a centralised computer database – this means that there is a larger amount of privacy based around the system and the app so that it is more secure; hopefully improving the chances of trust among the public.
This version however, has been stressed by the Prime Minister that it will not be ready any time in the near future; and Boris Johnson also told the house of commons that there wasn’t any country in the world who had a fully functioning contact tracing app ready.
The Corona-Warn-App from Germany was pushed across the nation last month and a week ago, the Robert Koch Institute had already managed to provide an update on the progress of their contract tracing app. They were celebrating the fact that the app had already been installed by about 16 million people in Germany.
“A successful start that speaks for great interest and acceptance among the population,” a statement from the app’s developer said.
It is thought that the app needs around half of the population to have installed it in order for its efficiency and effectiveness to be realised, and with a country of 83 million people in Germany, they are well on their way to ensuring that they have the correct contract tracing in place.
“The app works” added the institute’s president Prof Lothar Wieler. He also said that about 500 app users had tested positive for the virus and “had the opportunity to warn others via the app”.
He did also add however, that “We cannot say exactly how many people were warned, because of the decentralised approach of the app.” – further alluding the privacy restraints that are present with an app that is dealing with millions of people’s personal data. So with this in mind, we do not know yet specifically if the app is performing the key function.
One of the measures that determines if the app is performing properly is to understand whether it is producing false negatives or false positives; in other words, is it sending alerts to people that it doesn’t need to; and not sending alerts to those that it should. This is an important step to determine because there are questions over the reliability of bluetooth in the use of the app; and whether it is connecting properly to determine distance between individuals that have the app installed.
Back in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute told the BBC in a recent report that the log history that they would need to examine in order to find this information out, is sat with the users on their phones because of the privacy issues.
Developers of the SwissCovid app, have also said that an update will be available to the app users in August which will change how the bluetooth signals in the app are measured to ensure that it is more accurate.
“We hence have the same limitations in terms of statistics. We don’t know – and have no way of finding out – the number of people warned by the app or any false positives/false negatives,” a spokesman told the BBC.
These apps are bringing to the forefront of people’s minds the difficulties in providing an app that deals with masses of people’s personal information and the lengths that companies need to go to in order to provide something that works to it’s best abilities. The contact tracing app could potentially save thousands, if not millions of lives and we do appear to be edging closer to this contact tracing app, and having the ability for those affected with covid-19 to alert others of the risk.