EU calls for voluntary use of virus-tracking applications to accelerate pandemic recovery

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission urged EU governments on Wednesday to use COVID-19 contact tracking applications on a voluntary basis as part of efforts to lift border restrictions and revive Europe's travel and tourism industries. European Union.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A Swiss soldier shows on a mobile device the contact tracking application created by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), using Bluetooth and a design called Decentralized proximity tracking that preserves privacy (DP-3T) , which will be launched on May 11 by the Swiss government for easing the blockade caused by the coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19), in the Chamblon barracks, Switzerland, on April 30, 2020. REUTERS / Denis Balibouse

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Countries are racing to develop mobile tracking apps, hoping that smartphone technology can help reopen borders – crucial for trade – without unleashing a second wave of the pandemic.

This, in turn, raised concerns about breaches of government privacy and surveillance long after the virus crisis subsided. Applications use short-range wireless Bluetooth to identify those who have come into contact with people infected with the virus.

The Commission, which is the executive of the EU of 27 countries, sought to allay these fears.

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"Tracking applications must be voluntary, transparent, temporary, cybernetic, using pseudonymised data, must have Bluetooth technology and be interoperable across borders, as well as between operating systems," he said in a statement.

The Commission has also established guidelines to help developers design applications that can work with each other and across the EU.

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This includes minimum requirements for applications to communicate with each other to allow users to receive an alert wherever they are in the EU and in cases where they have come into contact with people infected with the virus.

Applications should allow health authorities to inform people of their positive results on the COVID-19 test, calculate users' exposure risk scores and send alerts about possible follow-up actions.

Concerns that apps won't be able to work across EU borders arose after a fight between France and Apple. France has accused the company of undermining its efforts to fight the virus, refusing to help make its iPhones more compatible with a planned "StopCovid" contact tracking application.

Google, Apple and Alphabet, whose operating systems serve 99% of the world's smartphones, are working together to create an application to slow the spread of the virus, allowing users to choose to register other phones they have been close to.

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Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; edition of Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich

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