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Coronavirus: Contact-tracing apps face further hitches

BBC Technology 15 Jun 2020 02:42
By Leo Kelion Technology desk editor
Norway contact-tracing appImage copyright Reuters

Norway's health authority has had to delete all data gathered via its Covid-19 contact-tracing app and suspend further use of the tool.

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority ruled the Smittestopp app represented a disproportionate intrusion into users' privacy.

A switch to a rival design backed by Apple and Google is being considered.

Elsewhere, researchers say a bug in the latest version of Australia's app means many iPhones fail to log matches.

In mid-April, Norway became one of the first places to introduce a contact-tracing app, when the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and software company Simula rolled out their tool to three of the country's municipalities.

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Such apps work by logging when two phones are close together for longer than a set period of time.

In the case of Smittestopp, at-risk users were asked to self-isolate to avoid spreading the infection further.

But the Norwegian Data Protection Authority said health chiefs had not demonstrated it was "strictly necessary" to collect location data.

The regulator also noted a group of experts asked to review the app had suggested a switch to Apple and Google's decentralised model, where the contact-matching process is on smartphones within this system, giving users a higher degree of anonymity.

But it is advising users to disable the app on their phones, to save battery life, while it decides whether to appeal.

Australia rolled out its CovidSafe app nationwide at the end of April.

Image copyright Getty Images

"With her device in this state, nobody else will record her presence and if anyone around her tested positive she would not be contacted."

Australia's Digital Transformation Agency told news site Zdnet it welcomed the feedback.

Image copyright Getty Images

And a Department of Health spokeswoman said it was still committed to a wider rollout of the NHS Covid-19 app across England, despite last week's postponement of the trial's second phase.

"Their feedback has been invaluable ahead of rolling out the app nationally soon."

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Norwegian Data Protection AuthorityNorways health authorityNorwegian Institute of Public HealthSimulaheath authority
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