Loose European coalition forms on coronavirus contact tracing

A loose European coalition is forming around an approach to using smartphone technology for coronavirus contact tracing. Supporters of the decentralized smartphone-based approach from Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Switzerland this week backed a roadmap to enable national apps to communicate with each other and handle infections when people travel abroad. Crucially for this coalition, its approach is compatible with that of Apple and Google.

Apple-Google COVID-19 contact-tracing scheme

Douglas Busvine for Reuters:

As countries rush to develop apps that would use Bluetooth short-range wireless to identify those who have come into contact with people infected with the virus, controversy has erupted over how best to handle the personal data they collect.

Britain and France argue people should trust their health authorities to hold such information on a central computer server.

MacDailyNews Take: Ha-ha… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – can’t breathe – HAHAHAHAHAHA!

A loose coalition of other nations, led by Switzerland and including Germany and Italy, believe data should be kept only on handsets so that it would be impossible for governments to spy on their citizens.

Researchers at Oxford University say that 60% of people need to sign up to apps to achieve the tracing levels needed to help defeat COVID-19… this has led some governments that have already launched them, including Australia, to link further steps to ease lockdowns to the number of downloads.

That approach is anathema to the decentralizers and privacy advocates. They say any discrimination — for example making access to a workplace contingent on using an app — should be illegal.

MacDailyNews Take: Yup.

If the government tries to make having such an app active as a requirement for working, or even moving about freely, they’d very likely have very poor legal outcome in the United States.MacDailyNews, April 14, 2020

Adopting proximity tracing apps should be seen as an act of altruism to help protect others from infection, argues Carmela Troncoso, a computer scientist at Lausanne who has been involved in designing and coding DP-3T.

Troncoso acknowledged that defending privacy entailed trade-offs in terms of utility when compared to the intrusive surveillance used by China and South Korea to trace and chase infections. That, however, is the point. “This is a very big bet: We hope this will allow us to better control the spread of the virus so that we can go back to normal life,” Troncoso told Reuters. “But it’s very hard to say that it will work. All the more reason not to create a new, invasive technology.”

MacDailyNews Take: Sometimes a lot of effort goes into things that simply won’t work very well.

Let’s not further erode what’s left of people’s privacy and security for a virtual pacifier.

No location data is truly anonymized. It can be cross-matched with other publicly-available data to identify and track individuals. The idea of any government requiring cellphone tracking to monitor its citizens’ movements, regardless of the reason, is chilling. — MacDailyNews, April 2, 2020

The centralized approach to coronavirus contact tracing is the wrong approach. Regardless, centralized or decentralized, the whole thing is pie-in-the-sky piffle.

Even if you forwent the smartphones (1 in 5 people don’t even have a smartphone in the U.S., for example) and instead sent a dedicated contact-tracing bracelet to every single person in every single country, you’d still be stuck with widespread non-compliance, inability to force compliance in many countries, non-charged / forgotten / lost bracelets, Bluetooth issues, false positives, etc., etc., etc.

Coronavirus contact tracing / exposure notification apps are nothing more than pablum for the masses. It’s simply a case of governments wanting to be able to tell citizens, “Want to feel safe while getting back to work, shopping, going out to eat, vacationing, etc.? There’s an app for that.”

“Don’t worry. Be happy. Download this app and go about your business.”

Might these apps help in some cases to get the relatively few people who will use them to seek testing or self-quarantine if/when the alarm goes off? Of course. But, overall, these apps are little more than security blankets for the citizenry to clutch on their way to herd immunity and, for governments that use a centralized system, to track the spread of infections on the way to herd immunity.

More about the myriad issues of Bluetooth COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be found in our Takes here, here and here.


  1. “2: When A becomes infected, he updates his status in the APP and gives his consent to share his key with the database”

    He said, she said.

    People can lie and play pranks not having the virus, or lie in tough situations and not report the virus and too many to count are irresponsible and not bother to follow through either way. Add to that, privacy issues will most likely repel the majority of world denizens. Countries and millions to billions of people without smartphones have no access at all.

    Without an infected alert sent to the persons, it becomes incumbent and a chore for everyone to check database base daily of all the people they came in contact with in life, hey was I hanging with infected person last night or last month?

    Pie in the sky liberal ‘Imagine” dream.

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