How Do Coronavirus Contract Tracing Apps Work?

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Written By Saeed Maleki

Millions of us are worried about the privacy and freedom implications of handing over our smartphone location data to governments.

Governments say they need the apps to detect people suffering from coronavirus, but there are doubts about how long the data would be stored and used.

Several countries are planning to use the apps, including the UK, where a trial is due to start within days, Australia, and UK.

What is a contact tracing app?

Apps like TripAdvisor and Facebook already throw up options based on a user’s location and a contact tracing app is merely an extension of this.

The app runs on a smartphone and tracks if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

When that happens, the app issues an alert so you can self-isolate or go for a test.

Why do we need a coronavirus app?

The app will help doctors map coronavirus hotspots and show where people are contracting the infection.

The data will give a much broader view of the pandemic than is currently available, which will aid healthcare planning and the need for social distancing rules.

How does a contract tracing app work?

The apps harness a smartphone’s built-in Bluetooth technology. When two phone emitting Bluetooth signals are close to each other, the software ‘handshakes’ to let them know the other is there.

The data is picked up by a remote server and sent to a health service for analysis.

Contacts are recorded by location and time spent close by

Is the app standard around the world?

Apps work slightly different in each country. In the US, Apple and Google are working on an app that works across iOS and Android smartphones.

What happens to your data?

The data is anonymous and kept on phones for upload every few days.

In the UK, the National Health Service app keeps the data on central server. The British government has declined taking the Apple/Google app due to concerns about privacy.

The tech giants say the data is only for use by healthcare entities, is collected by consent and does not include personal information like gender, race, or religion

Does everyone have to use the app?

No. Currently, taking part in a coronavirus tracking strategy is voluntary.