Nationwide coronavirus app ready for download from August 20

Smartphone. Photo is illustrative.
Smartphone. Photo is illustrative. Source: ERR

A coronavirus contact tracing app being developed in Estonia will be available to the public for download from August 20 – restoration of independence day – developers say.

The app will use Bluetooth to establish whether a person has been in close contact – less than 2 meters – from an individual testing positive for COVID-19.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has recommended that everyone in the country use the app, which has taken longer to develop than in some other countries, but, the ministry says, will be made up for by presenting a quality product.

The app will be available on Google's Play store and Apple's App Store, it is reported, and involves each downloader receiving a code from their phone – which is then downloaded to a server if the user tests positive for COVID-19.

At the same time, users will be notified via the app if they have recently been near a phone whose user tested positive.

Priit Tohver, social affairs ministry e-services adviser, told ERR Wednesday that the majority of data, including whether the user has been in close contact with a coronavirus carrier, remains on their phone.

"The app also has a server where the non-personalized codes of infected people are stored and can be downloaded by other users. It is not possible to identify a person based on the non-personalized code," he said.

By August 20, the necessary tests should have been completed and the app should be available for download, Tohver said. 

It will be a specific app to limit any potential future spread of the coronavirus, but the possibility that in the future it may be used regarding other infectious disease is in place, he added.

The codes, held in the Estonian Government Cloud and managed by the Health and Welfare Information Systems Center (Tervise ja Heaolu Infosüsteemide Keskus), will be deleted from the server regularly every 14 days, with data processing use explained to users on the app's website and in the Play Store and Apple Story environments, Tohver went on.

"The position of the state and the companies developing the app is clearly that the app must respect the privacy of users," he said.

A 20-member working group is preparing the app on a voluntary basis.

Bluetooth technology will detect nearby contacts, which has been tried and tested in Singapore, Germany and Switzerland, Tohver said, despite some security concerns in some countries.

So far as accuracy goes, it is sufficient to establish if a user has likely been near, meaning less than 2 meters, from a carrier for a significant period of time, Tohver said – something which can be measured by signal strength difference, with a difference of less than 50 dB being key indicator.

Differences in how different phone models perceive Bluetooth signlas have been taken into account; any discrepancies or ambiguities are at best no worse than they would be if an individual literally tried to remember who they had been in recent contact with, Tohver added.

Similar apps are also in use in Latvia and Germany already, ERR reports.

A coronavirus contact app under development by the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) was recently abandoned amid security concerns and other issues. The NHS is now also going down the Apple/Google tech giants route.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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