EU wants voluntary, privacy-based virus-tracking mobile apps


Mobile apps used by EU countries to combat the spread of the coronavirus must comply with the block’s privacy rules and ask people’s permission to use personal data, but exclude location data, the European Commission said Thursday. The EU leader’s recommendations are part of a unified European approach to using technology to combat COVID-19 and come after several EU countries have rolled out a variety of apps, sparking criticism from data privacy activists.

“Strong privacy safeguards are a prerequisite for using these apps, and thus for their usability,” European digital chief Thierry Breton said in a statement. The Commission said that the mobile apps should be approved by public health authorities, installed voluntarily and removed when not needed.

The apps must be based on anonymised data and work with other apps in other EU countries. “Location data is not needed and is not recommended for contact app tracking, as it is not their purpose to track the movements of individuals or to enforce regulations,” said the Commission document, which identifies security and privacy risks are mentioned.

To date, 28 countries around the world have launched contact tracking apps, including 11 European countries, while 11 more are developing apps based on GPS or Bluetooth data, according to an analysis by Linklaters law firm. “Contact tracing apps are by no means a ‘magic bullet’,” said Linklater’s attorney Sonia Cisse. “Having the tools to track and trace those with coronavirus is an important step, but there is also the challenge of widespread adoption to make apps work effectively.”

About two-thirds of a country’s population should be involved for contact tracking to be effective, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute. The Commission said public health authorities will assess the effectiveness of such apps by the end of the month, with EU countries expected to share the feedback in May and the EU executive to report in June.

Breton said he held a video conference with Google chief Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on Wednesday to discuss their partnership with Apple to create contact tracking technology. “Contact tracing apps can be helpful in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. But their development and interoperability should fully respect our values ​​and privacy,” Breton said in a statement.

Google said it was a good meeting and that the collaborative effort with Apple was designed to sign in and meet privacy and security standards.

(This story has not been edited by staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)


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