An EU-funded research centre in the Republic of Cyprus is calling on people to install a new app called CovTracer to help limit the spread of coronavirus, amid concerns regarding privacy and effectiveness of tracking applications.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, a mobile phone application called "CovTracer" aims at stopping the COVID-19 epidemic by helping authorities identify people who may have come in contact with confirmed cases of the virus.
The application is based on SafePaths, an open source originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The app “Private Kit: Safe Paths” notifies users who came in close contact with a diagnosed patient, using encryption technology while protecting privacy data stored only on the users’ phones.
The Cypriot version of the application has been made available by RISE Smart Systems and Emerging Technologies, which received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020.
App helps users recollect their whereabouts
By tracking the user’s locations in the past few days, health officials can take early measures in a case of a confirmed coronavirus infection, such as evacuations and disinfections, according to CNA.
CovTracer facilitates the tracking of citizens who were close to a confirmed case by logging their location and creating a trail log, allowing users to view a map of all the locations visited during a specified period in case they test positive or come in contact with an infected person.
RISE says the first version is designed primarily for people whose work does not allow them to stay home, such as doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and unitility company workers.
“For the rest of Cyprus population, we strongly advise them to stay at home in order to stop the spreading of the epidemics,” RISE says.
MIT Media Lab’s Ramesh Raskar, who leads the team behind the original app, believes the programme can be helpful if enough people use it
It was not clear whether CovTracer users could have the option of being directly notified any time an infected person, who also uses the app, is nearby.
MIT Media Lab’s Ramesh Raskar, who leads the team behind the original app, believes the programme can be helpful if enough people use it.
Raskar says a fine-grained tracking approach, which would allow specific locations to be closed off and disinfected, is better than blanket shutdowns, which are socially and economically disruptive.
Foreign governments in some Asian countries reportedly used smartphone applications to monitor people under quarantine. A typical app uses GPS technology to keep track of a user’s location to determine whether or not they are breaking their quarantine.
But there are many versions of the application, with critics warning against breaches of privacy and experts pointing out that inaccurate or incomplete information could also lead to a false sense of security.
The installation of CovTracer is on a voluntary basis according to RISE, which says any location and movement data recorded by the application will remain encrypted and stored on the mobile phone device. The data normally cannot be accessed by others, and only users can then choose to share the data with others including authorities.
RISE has called on people to contribute in the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the Republic of Cyprus by installing the application on their mobile phones. CovTracer is currently available only on Android phones while it will soon be available for iPhones.
The installation is voluntary while the app can be downloaded here.