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COVID-19: New Portuguese app alerts users who have been in contact with someone infected

Supporting citizens in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 is the goal of a new Portuguese application that will alert users in Portugal who have been in contact with someone infected with the new Coronavirus. The app was presented this Monday in Porto, as part of the project launched by Fundao for Science and Technology, which was called monitor4COVID19.

In a statement, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education explains that the application was developed under the coordination of the Institute of Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC). Three associated laboratories were also involved in the project in the area of ​​information and communication technologies, IT, INESC ID and LARSyS, as well as the Public Health Institute of the University of Porto (ISPUP).

To PBLICO, the president of INESC TEC, Jos Manuel Mendona, explains that in the case of this application, "it is not necessary to send data in bulk to a central server, nor to register people's coordinates, nor to access information from telecommunications operators. At a time when As the concern about privacy is increasing, the specialist guarantees that "no personal data is shared, which removes the phantom fear of privacy.

The use of applications to monitor and help control the spread of COVID-19 has been studied by the Governments of several countries, and in the European Union, the principles of security and privacy that these apps must obey, and the contribution of operators have been defined. telecommunications.

Initially the Government would have ruled out the possibility of using a similar application, but last week Antnio Costa ended up confirming that he was going to move forward with this app.

Bluetooth technology to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic

With as a provisional designation, the app will be a voluntary use platform. The platform will allow interested users to discover, for themselves, an occasion of proximity, which occurred in the last 14 days, with someone confirmed as infected with the new coronavirus. This is based on public information and certified by health authorities.

The app for Android and iOS has some similarities with the Apple and Google initiative announced in mid-April, also working through Bluetooth. When activated, the application sends anonymous identifiers to mobile phones that are nearby, while retaining the identifiers it receives.

The idea is that if one of the users of the application becomes infected, he can voluntarily share all the beeps sent by his mobile phone in the last 14 days, but never those that are received, with health professionals. These beeps are placed on a server, without any context information, where smartphones with the installed app will, once a day, compare the beeps stored on mobile phones with the beeps published on the server by health professionals. If a match exists, the cell phone user is alerted.

"This method is much faster than the current system of asking infected people with whom they have been, and contacting those people directly, by telephone, stresses Jos Manuel Mendona. The question are you willing to give up privacy? It is a false question. The question it’s poorly worded, you don’t have to give up on privacy, and the allusions to George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother only distort information and generate fear.

Although there is still no date foreseen for the launch of the application, the objective that can help the Portuguese is that social isolation measures are relieved. The optical assessment of the application is being conducted by ISPUP, while the impact assessment on data protection is being carried out by INESC TEC and, later, an independent assessment of data protection by the National Cybersecurity Center will also be carried out .