A rift has opened up over the build of smartphone apps to hint people in Europe susceptible to coronavirus infection, potentially hindering steps from containing the pandemic and easing crippling travel bans.
Scientists and researchers from over 25 nations published an open letter Monday urging governments not to abuse such expertise to spy on their people and warning of risks in an approach initiated by Germany.
Tech specialists are rushing to develop digital methods to combat COVID-19, a flu-like disease brought on by the novel coronavirus that has sickened 2.4 million people worldwide and been linked to 165,000 deaths.
Automating the assessment of who’s at risk and telling them to see a doctor, get tested, or self-quarantine is seen by advocates as a way to speed up a task that usually entails phone calls and house calls.
Contact tracking apps are already in use in Asia, but copying their strategy by utilizing location data would breach Europe’s privacy laws. Instead, Bluetooth chatter between gadgets is seen as a greater way to measure person-to-person contacts.
But the controversy over the best way ahead could delay the launch of apps to assist governments, once they’ve brought the pandemic under control, to arrest any new outbreaks.
The rift has opened up over a German project, called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PPPT), which has faced backlash for being too centralized and thus vulnerable to governmental mission creep.