Conversation: Contact Tracing Apps—Solution or Threat?

In light of the exponential COVID-19 outbreak, national governments worldwide started evaluating solutions that might help in the fight against the virus, also involving the use of citizens’ data. One of the solutions brought on the table is to use contact-tracing apps to contain and reverse the spread of COVID-19. In practice, these kinds of apps would alert citizens whenever they are in proximity with an individual who has been confirmed positive for COVID-19.

The introduction of this kind of application is highly controversial: on the one hand, contact-tracing apps can help to control and track the spread of the virus, facilitate scientific research by allowing easier access to datasets, and provide guidance to citizens. On the other hand, concerns have been raised about their effectiveness and individuals’ privacy being at risk. The most plausible concern here is the use of this technology for surveillance by governments or third parties. Concerns were also raised about the infrastructure supporting the apps: Should it be centralised, which means that pseudonymised proximity data would be stored and processed on a server controlled by a national authority, or decentralised? By implementing a decentralised approach ephemeral IDs would be stored locally on a device and only uploaded with the user’s permission after a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. A relay server would be used to broadcast infected IDs, enabling devices to locally compute if there’s a risk that requires notification.

European countries are at different stages in developing COVID-19 contact-tracing apps. Most nations have chosen Bluetooth-based technology as the best way of registering potential contact with those who have been infected. Many Western and Southern European governments including France, Belgium, Italy and Spain have pledged to develop their national apps using the standards put together by the new Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) technology. Germany seemed to be supporting a PEPP-PT strategy at first, but now it seems like it is going to adopt a decentralised approach together with Switzerland, Austria and Estonia.

In this DIGITAL SME Live conversation, we investigate the issue of contact-tracing apps with experts in privacy and cybersecurity. Join us live on our YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook channels by clicking the social media icons below shortly before the start of the event!

Speakers: 

  • Steffen Mauer, Co-Founder of Atlas Intelligence GmbH
  • Willem Jonker, CEO of EIT Digital

Moderator:

  • SebastianoToffaletti, Secretary-General at European DIGITAL SME Alliance

Tune in on Friday 15 May, 14.00 CEST by clicking on the icons below!