Ministry of Social Affairs developing coronavirus alert app

Smart phone.
Smart phone. Source: (Photo: ERR)

The Ministry of Social Affairs is working to create an app which would notify users when they have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

Mobile applications for detecting and notifying close contacts are already used today, for example, in Singapore and South Korea. 

Priit Tohver, Adviser of the Ministry of Social Affairs in the field of e-services development and innovation, told ERR such applications are becoming more and more common. The general approach is similar for all of them. Phones communicate with each other via Bluetooth and the apps share anonymous codes.

Tohver said, hopefully, Estonia will be able to come up with its own application in the coming months. The ministry has already discussed the matter with several companies.

One of the most difficult questions is what role the Health Board should play in developing the application.

As such, the person who found out about the infection could press the red button in the application and send a notification to all their contacts.

"But this opens up the application to misuse. A few people would want to play jokes to panic people. But we still want to be able to verify that this infection has actually taken place," Tohver said.

Currently, the idea is that a person's infection must be confirmed by the Health Board, and only then will the notification system become operational.

Tohver said there are several ways to inform others depending on whether the user of the application is ready to share their phone number with the Health Board.

If a person agrees to give their number to the Health Board, after they had received an alert notifying them they had been close to an infected person the Health Board could call them and offer advice. But if a person does not want to share their number, they would only receive an automated message through the app.

Raul Rikk, Head of Cyber ​​Security at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said when cooperating with large corporations, there should be a clear overview of what data companies collect.

"The key question is how cyber security and personal data protection would be fully compliant with data protection rules for such solutions and applications," said Rikk.

Signe Heiberg, Public Relations Adviser of the Data Protection Inspectorate, said such information systems can only operate on a voluntary basis.

There are no plans to make the use of the monitoring application mandatory in Estonia. 


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Editor: Helen Wright

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