Swiss researchers from the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a contact tracing app which will be released publicly on May 11th, pending legal approval.
The app, called DP-3T, uses bluetooth to digitally trace contact in order to get a more accurate idea for how the virus is spreading within the general public – and how to stop it.
The app registers when an individual comes into contact with other individuals through a person’s smartphone location systems.
If someone contracts the coronavirus, the app warns everyone who has come in close contact with that person that they may have contracted the virus.
Some cantons have already started to measure contact tracing individually, however the current plan is slated to operate at a countrywide level.
A trial version of the app can be downloaded here.
Will it be effective?
With contact tracing apps proving effective in several Asian countries, researchers have been looking to implement something similar in Switzerland.
There have however been privacy protection issues, as well as concerns that it will not be effective unless it is downloaded by at least 60 percent of Swiss society.
Researchers from Oxford University have said that the app will be ineffective with a lower percentage signup.
As a result, some Swiss politicians have argued that the app must be made mandatory.
SVP councillor Andrea Gmür said “for the app to be effective, it needs to be mandatory during the acute emergency phase”.
While the legality of such a move is questionable, other digital experts have argued that even with a lower percentage take-up rate, it could be effective in tracing contact.
How about privacy concerns?
Switzerland had initially been a part of a European initiative on contract tracing, but withdrew due to privacy concerns.
They did so after realising that user data would not be protected, and went on launch the D3-PT system which, they said, would be more “decentralised and transparent”.
The idea of a COVID contact tracing app isn't dead – quite the opposite! There is now a healthy debate about the best approach. I strongly favor a decentralized approach.
Public debate creates consensus, transparency creates trust.
My current favorite: https://t.co/9musLmKtYy
— Marcel Salathé (@marcelsalathe) April 20, 2020
The DP-3T app uses decentralised information which better protects personal data as it can less easily be collated, stored and harvested.
In a statement, the creators have said that the system protects the privacy of app users.
“The aim of the system is to minimise the risks to the privacy and security of individuals and communities and to guarantee the highest level of data protection”.
How does contact tracking work?
The process involves identifying contaminated people, so that measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infection on to others.
It is all the more important in cases when the sick person has no symptoms and may not even know they are sick.
Once the infected person is identified, efforts are made to locate and test the people they have been in contact with within the past two weeks. If one of those contacts is found to be infected, the investigation starts again.