The World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to launch a corona app this month. People can use the app to check whether they have been infected with the coronavirus. The app might also include a contact tracing function using Bluetooth, Bernardo Mariano, Chief Information Officer at the WHO, told Reuters in an interview.
The coronavirus is still spreading across the globe. Many governments are considering using a smartphone app to track the spread of the virus. The UK is in the middle of an app test on the Isle of Wight. If this test turns out to be successful than the government will roll out the software across the country. France is trying to build an app as well, and is talking to Apple about the options for tracing using Bluetooth. Apple does not want to make it possible for a phone to send out signals while an app is running in the background.
Researchers in Germany are building a privacy friendly corona-app. The data that is collected by the app is not saved centrally in a database, but locally on users’ phones. A user needs to give permission for the data to be sent out to healthcare professionals. Australia has launched the app COVIDSafe. And in India employees living in an area that has been hit by the virus, or people that work for the government or in large offices, are made to install the app Aarogya Setu.
What does the WHO app do?
The WHO app has been developed by people working for big tech companies like Microsoft and Alphabet (Google’s parent company). As soon as the app is finished it will be open-source and the source code will be made available on Github.
The main goal of the app is that people can find out whether they have been infected by the virus. People can register their symptoms in the app, and when it results in a positive diagnosis it will tell the users where they can get tested.
The app might also have a second feature, namely contact tracing. This feature uses Bluetooth to find out whether a person has been in contact with someone who has been infected with the virus. The ‘digital handshake’ will be exchanged when a person has been within 6 feet of someone for more than 5 minutes. If someone has been in contact with a peerson who has been infected, everyone who has exchanged a ‘digital handshake’ with this person will get notified.
This feature has not been included in the app yet, for privacy and legal reasons. Mariano is worried that a lot of companies are offering this feature, but are collecting private data to sell at a later point. He wants to make sure that privacy can be guaranteed.
The app should be available by the end of the month across the globe, for both Android and iOS
Third World Countries
Reuters asked Mariano what the value is of developing an app such as this one, since so many countries are developing their own apps. The Chief Information Officer told them that they developed the app for countries that don’t have the means or knowledge to do this themselves, such as African developing countries. Text messages will be used to get in touch with people that aren’t connected to the internet.