Coronavirus contact tracing app: friend or foe?

Contact tracing apps, which alert users when they have been in contact with infected people, are being touted as crucial aids to control the spread of Covid-19. But critics warn of data privacy concerns, and Switzerland’s parliament has demanded a legal basis for such an app.

Europe is slowly emerging from an artificial coma induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. As countries ease their lockdowns and try to avoid a second wave of infections, the race is on to develop smartphone apps to trace the spread of the virus. However, the tech sprint has raised numerous questions among the general population and scientific community.

The decentralised contact tracing app DP-3T, developed by the two Swiss federal institutes of technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and Lausanne (EPFL), will launch on May 13 in a pilot phase “for a certain group of the population” until the end of the month, Health Minister Alain Berset said on Friday.

The app, which people can voluntarily download and use, employs Bluetooth technology to allow smartphones to communicate with each another anonymously. If a person tests positive for coronavirus, all the people with whom that person was in contact in previous days – less than two metres proximity for more than 15 minutes – are alerted via the app to isolate themselves and get tested.

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