With coronavirus cases declining in most European countries, countries have gradually introduced their contact tracking apps to avoid a second wave of cases that require extensive economic barriers. While the launch of the apps in countries like Germany, France and Italy went relatively smoothly, the United Kingdom is a different story.
The British government announced on June 18 that it had decided to drop the app it had developed, which also had the centralized approach. The government said it made the decision after a The pilot of the app on the Isle of Wight revealed problems. It is now targeting fall to release its app.
There were some issues in the early stages of app tracking. In this week, Margrethe Vestager, Vice President of the EU Commission, warned France's different approach would make it difficult for its app to sync with the apps other countries are developing. "It is somewhat more difficult to develop the technical standards for interoperability between decentralized systems because I think that this is the general rule and the centralized system that France has sought," Vestager told the French Parliament.
The issue of interoperability came to the fore when European countries began to open their borders to travel. Although such trips are still fairly limited, they are expected to increase this summer. EU leaders are therefore keen to track possible cross-border outbreaks.
This week the European Commission announced that Member States a Set of technical specifications This could allow data to be exchanged between different contact tracking apps. However, it only works with apps that use a decentralized architecture.
The COVID-19 app published by France uses a central system that collects data on a remote server and carries out potential matches there. The app had one in the first eight days reported 1 million downloads.
While advocates of data protection have criticized this approach, French officials have insisted that controlling the data would give them more insight into the virus while protecting its national sovereignty. The French government was particularly frustrated by Apple's and Google's move to develop a decentralized standard that stores data on smartphones and does potential matches on the same devices. French politicians believed that such decisions should be made by governments, but most other governments have so far opted for the decentralized standard.
This includes Germany, which considered the centralized approach at an early stage and then quickly turned to the decentralized one. Germany released its app on June 16, supposedly see 10 million downloads in three days. In addition to Germany, similar decentralized apps have now been introduced in:
Although it is too early to judge what impact the apps will have, these initial projects offer a crucial test of the technologies with which they operate. Given the expectation that pandemics could become a periodic feature of modern life due to globalization and climate change, this first generation of apps is a crucial experiment for the role that technology could play in fighting future outbreaks.