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What are the criteria for a COVID-19 tracking app? Brussels answers 12 questions

What is the importance of tracking apps? Internet connection required? What data will be shared? The issues that have arisen regarding the applications that are being developed in several countries are many and the dispute about the violation of privacy is also high. Therefore, and to clarify the Europeans, the European Commission has prepared a document with questions and answers about these tools that are intended to help in the fight against the pandemic that is marking 2020.

From the moment that the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality, screening applications were seen as a viable strategy for combating the new coronavirus and spreading the disease. After the European Commission (EC) admits the importance of these apps, the European executive wants to clarify the model so that these tools are safe and efficient throughout the European Union.

In April, the EC was already talking about the need for a common strategy for tracking applications. That same month, Brussels published a document in which it made clear what approach should be taken in several areas by the Member States, namely with regard to issues such as ensuring privacy and voluntary use of apps.

However, at a time when the solution of Apple and Google in the combat COVID-19 was already known, Portugal also announced an application for voluntary use. The STAYAWAY COVID app should be launched by the end of May, using Bluetooth technology to track citizens, and this week SAPO TEK compiled the various questions to which it responded.

In a very different reality is Singapore, a country where since this Tuesday there is a mandatory check-in system to "facilitate tracking efforts" for COVID-19. The voluntary application to combat the pandemic did not have the desired adhesion and, therefore, the government advanced with a mandatory solution in establishments such as schools, offices or hospitals and which uses a QR code.

Check out Brussels' answers to important questions about tracking applications.

What is a contact notice and tracking application?

A tracking and contact warning app installed voluntarily. The aim is to warn users if they have been close, for a certain period of time, to a person who reported having been infected with COVID-19. In the case of an alert, the application can provide important information from the health authorities, namely advice regarding testing or containment measures for anyone who has been in contact with someone infected.

Why are tracking apps important?

According to Brussels, screening is an "essential intervention", when accompanied by testing, isolation and other efforts to combat the pandemic. Thus, this type of apps complements the traditional screening carried out by public health authorities when interviewing patients with symptoms. This process is usually done by cell phone, to understand who people have been in contact with in the last 48 hours. In this sense, applications can be "a valuable contribution as long as containment measures have been gradually lifted".

How does a tracking app work?

The first step is to install an application on the smartphone, with the possibility of having to provide some registration information for the app to work. After giving the necessary consent to use Bluetooth for proximity detection, the app starts generating temporary keys that are shared with other smartphones with tracking apps in Europe.

If the person feels sick and has tested positive for COVID-19, the country's public health authority allows the user to confirm this even through the app. At that time, the application triggers an alert for people with whom it has been in contact and users will be notified of that exposure. On the other hand, you will still be advised to follow several steps, such as performing a test or containment measures.

The app can also contact the health authority. But Brussels clarifies that the identity, location and exact time of the proximity contact will not be revealed. The same is true if a user's contact receives a positive test: just be notified so that they can protect themselves.

What data will I share when using tracking apps?

Once activated, the application generates a set of numbers and letters. These keys will be exchanged via Bluetooth technology between smartphones at a short distance. In practice, these exchanges allow you to detect other equipment with a tracking app.