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Contact tracking or symptom checking: Should COVID-19 apps all be part of an ecosystem?

Install or not to install a contact and symptom tracking app? The concern with how the data recorded by the applications that intend to help in the combat COVID-19 will be used, and what implications this has for the privacy of the citizens, has been pointed out as one of the main obstacles to the installation of the apps. And that resistance may jeopardize the effectiveness of these solutions in controlling the spread of the pandemic, now that doors are opening again for a gradual deflation. Several organizations have been defending the solution, and to divulge rules that intend to guarantee the protection of data, like the European Commission and the European Parliament, but the doubts are raised by data protection organizations in Europe, including the Portuguese D3.

Among the proposals that are beginning to be developed there are different models, among those that are focused on contact tracking, such as STAYAWAY COVID, and other applications that combine the identification of symptoms and useful information for users, and which are aimed at the general population. or to companies that want to ensure the protection of their employees. CovidApp, CoronaManager, Covidografia and OK Detect (which was also called CovidApp but changed its name), are some of the apps that were presented in the last few weeks and that had a different origin, born from voluntary projects or initiatives by IT companies, but who share the goal of helping to fight the pandemic.

Those responsible for the apps participated in a digital conversation promoted by APDC within the framework of the COVID-19 Digital Reply cycle that had already received two of the promoters from STAYAWAY COVID the previous week. Between the way they defined the bases for using the apps, their scope and the concern with the security and privacy of users, the discussion also turned to the possibility of creating an ecosystem, which could combine the logic of contact tracing with the registration of symptoms.

This, incidentally, is the objective of a working group created under the Tech4COVID initiative, which was announced last week, 1APP4PT, as explained by Pedro Fortuna, one of those responsible for the Covidography area and co-founder of Jscrambler. We have published a document on contact tracing and we are very interested in combining it with symptom tracking in a single application, he said, arguing that this fusion makes perfect sense for the citizen who will not have two or three applications.

The vision shared with Miguel Dias Fernandes, Consulting Partner at PWC, who presented the CoronaManager app. There will be several contact tracing and symptom checking apps, and having only one Bluetooth tracking component will be reductive, he argues, explaining how important it is to have direct contacts from the Sade 24 line, health delegates and georeferenced information to avoid travel and clusters of people. people.

We can have an app ecosystem in Portugal, said Miguel Dias Fernandes, advancing that way we will be better prepared as a society against the spread of COVID-19.

The need to have a good application, which proves useful to be downloaded and used, while maintaining all security and privacy rules, was addressed by the various stakeholders in this conversation promoted by APDC. The issues of interoperability between the different systems and the existence of a high number of users, which has been pointed out in the 60% of the population, were also addressed, although there are those who disagree, like Carlos Lei, from Hypelabs, who is developing OK Detect and considers that regardless of the number of users, these apps are always a help in relation to manual contact tracking.

The CovidApp application shares information and recommendations

Pedro Fortunare also mentions the limitations of using Bluetooth to identify proximity contacts. Bluetooth can fail to identify distance, he says, stating that there may be a high number of false positives in some situations where people are applying the care referred to by the DGS. There is a risk formula that weighs 15 minutes and 2 meters of proximity to determine whether to be notified by the application, he explains, saying that in Covidografia it is argued that the intelligence of this formula should be nurtured, adding more information about the evolutionary history, although this do not solve yet other problems such as asymptomatic. But it is a principle, he says.

Despite these limitations Pedro Fortuna does not think that one should opt for check-in solutions in certain places, as is being done in Singapore. it is a control mechanism, it enters the sphere of locating people that we have not yet entered with these applications () a door that we do not have to go through and I do not see a sufficiently strong justification, he says.

Miguel Dias Fernandes also underlines the issue of security and privacy. All this voluntary, the download, erase the data, he says, explaining that the use of the applications must be communicated to the users explaining why they are installed and used. Not with phone calls and with the recomposition of the last 14 days that we will be able to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We will benefit as a society from having more information, he argues, stating that the new normal needs to be done with confidence. These mechanisms are fundamental for us to manage this moment, which is difficult, and it doesn't matter which app is used, it ends.

CovidAPP, Covidografia, CoronaManager and OK Detec: 4 apps with different paths and origins

In the range of applications that were presented in the last few weeks for COVID-19 combat, two were born within the scope of the Tech4COVID19 initiation, in March, CovidApp and Covidografia, of which SAPO TEK has already spoken. In the first case, the app has the collaboration of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto and controls the symptoms of the coronavirus. Francisco Sales, cofounder of Mosano, the company that created the application, explains that the objective was to respond to the needs of health professionals and to control infected patients, bringing more security to isolation.

CovidApp has already had 37,000 people simultaneously under observation, giving doctors a perspective of evolution and possibility of contact, but the lines of evolution are already being drawn, which may include support for wearables and monitoring of chronic diseases such as Diabetes . The app is already available for installation and will also be in Google and Apple's app stores in the coming days, said the manager.

Covidografia, which was born with the same goals and on the same date as the tech4COVID19 initiative, a platform intends to take a picture of the state and symptoms of users and their state of confinement. Created by volunteers, with more than 100 people involved in the development, the app was designed in free code and is based on ethical and security concerns, with around 66 thousand users since its launch on April 8.

OK Detect (which was also called CovidApp but changed its name) and CoronaManager had different origins, being born as a solution for companies that want to help protect their employees.

OK Detect, developed by startup HypeLabs with collaboration from tech4COVID19 volunteers, has already been tested in Colombia, but Carlos Lei Santos, co-founder and CEO of the company, claims that it has received interest from organizations in several countries, due to the experience that the startup has technology that connects devices without using the internet, via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. We collaborated with governments in South America and learned a lot about how to match clinical tests and how to maintain an anonymous and private tracking app, he explains, saying that after the startup changed the chip and focused on development in companies that they need security solutions for employees.

The app is available, but privately, and Carlos Lei Santos refers to the interest of organizations in the Middle East, USA and Europe. We don't have it in Portugal yet, but we hope that will change soon, he said.

also on the side of the companies, CoronaManager was born, which has already been tested in Germany and which is also available in Portuguese, having been created by PwC. The objective is to help companies return to normalcy, controlling contagion networks and helping managers to manage spaces and teams.

In addition to the traceability of contacts using Bluetooth, and symptom registration, CoronaManager also provides useful information for users, based on their location, registration and analysis of health data, registration and access to leave for professional reasons .

The app is available for iOS and Android, but still in private mode.