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EU commences continent-wide contact tracing using the Apple/Google method

It looks like most European Union members have taken the sensible approach to developing contact tracing apps, which enables cross-border interoperability.

The European Commission will be setting up an interoperability gateway service in its usually good time. Apparently it has found time, in between epic lunches, to start test runs between the backend servers of the official apps from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Latvia, and a newly established gateway server.

Since the EC has already committed to the decentralized model dictated by the Apple/Google platform, we have to assume these ‘backend servers’ are anonymised and don’t permit access by any state institutions. The main point of this initiative is to prevent the need to install a new contact tracing app when you cross borders.

“Coronavirus tracing and warning apps working across borders can be powerful tools in our efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19,” said Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. “With cases on the rise again, apps can complement other measures like increased testing and manual contact tracing. If used widely enough, they can help us break the chains of transmission.”

That’s a big if, Stella. While going down the decentralised route removes one of the biggest reasons to be nervous about installing a contact tracing app, people still have to use it voluntarily. Furthermore, even if they do use it, and get an alert that they’re come into contact with someone who might have the plague, they still have to voluntarily quarantine themselves. Since many people haven’t been able to work for half a year, a good proportion of them are likely to be very reluctant to extend their purgatory.

“Many Member States have implemented national contact tracing and warning applications,” said Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Single Market. “It is now time to make them interact with each other. Travel and personal exchange are the core of the European project and the Single Market. The gateway will facilitate this in these times of pandemic and will save lives.”

The gateway will exchange arbitrary identifiers between national apps and nothing more, or so the EC says. As you would expect from an EU project, it’s being run by German companies T-Systems and SAP and is expected to be up and running in October, by which time the peak of the second wave may well have passed.

  • TechXLR8


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