Apple’s collaboration with Google will make it quicker to get systems for tracing coronavirus infections up and running, according to the prime mover behind a pan-European effort to support the smartphone technology.
Technologists are racing to use Bluetooth short-range communications between devices as a proxy for measuring the risk that a person infected with the coronavirus can pass it on.
Chris Boos, who is championing the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing technology platform, says this can help shorten the path to deployment.
“We need to worry less about operating system stability and device calibration,” Boos, the founder of German business process automation start-up Arago, said in written answers to the news agency Reuters.
PEPP-PT plans a progress update on Friday.
CHAIN OF INFECTION
The coronavirus can be spread by people who show no symptoms, increasing the urgency of efforts once an individual tests positive to break the chain of infection.
Digital technology can help give people targeted warnings to see their doctors or self-isolate, its backers say, reducing the need for lockdowns that have caused huge economic disruption.
Bluetooth advocates say it would be a more accurate and less intrusive way of logging the closeness and duration of personal contacts than location tracking based on networks or satellites.
But a divide has opened up between supporters of decentralised systems, including Apple and Google and advocates of a centralised approach in which sensitive data is held on a server. The latter includes some governments, raising significant concerns that they could seek to put citizens under surveillance.
PEPP-PT, which is being developed in partnership with Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute and technologists from other European countries, would support both models.
“A centralised model offers such much better pandemic management potential without infringing privacy,” Boos said.
“But it should be a country’s choice. You can gather the same data on top of a decentralized model – it just means more people have to move data on infected people.”
PEPP-PT is undergoing certification by Germany’s cybersecurity watchdog and has drawn support from some leaders in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
No decision has yet been made, however, to endorse an official contact-tracing app to run on PEPP-PT that experts say would need to be downloaded by at least 60% of the population to help achieve so-called digital herd immunity.
Via our content partners at Reuters. Reporting by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Alexander Smith.