EU: Use of COVID-19 contact tracing apps should be voluntary

As countries rush to develop smartphone-based digital contact tracing apps, the European Commission will urge EU governments on Wednesday to use COVID-19 contact tracing apps on a voluntary basis as part of a larger package of measures aimed at lifting border restrictions and reviving the European Union’s tourism and travel industries.

contact tracing apps


[The rush to develop smartphone-based digital contact tracing apps] has triggered concerns about privacy breaches and government surveillance long after the virus crisis has eased. The apps use Bluetooth short-range wireless to identify those who have come into contact with people infected with the virus.

“Contact tracing and warning measures, for example, with the use of mobile apps, could be used, on a voluntary basis, by passengers to detect and interrupt infection chains and reduce the risk of further transmission as long as transmission risks persist,” said a Commission document seen by Reuters. “Due to the cross-border nature of transport, it is important to try to ensure the interoperability and mutual acceptance of such measures,” the document said.

MacDailyNews Take: Obviously, the use of COVID-19 contact tracing apps should be voluntary. Regardless, 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

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.

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