Europe to launch virus contact tracing app initiative

BERLIN: European scientists and technologists said they would launch a joint initiative on Wednesday to support the use of digital applications in the fight against coronavirus while complying with the region’s tough privacy laws.

The Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) brings together 130 researchers from eight countries to develop applications that can support contact tracing efforts within countries and across borders.

“Our goal is to provide a backbone for the digital core components of the global fight against Covid-19,” said Hans-Christian Boos, founder of business automation company Arago and a member of a digital advisory council to the German government.

“The PEPP-PT platform others can build on includes an anonymous and privacy-preserving digital proximity tracing approach, which is in full compliance with GDPR and can also be used when travelling between countries.”

The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is the European Union’s privacy rulebook that sets strict limits on the processing of personal data, making it difficult, for example, to use smartphone location data to fight Covid-19 — the flu-like disease caused by the coronavirus.

Boos will hold a news briefing at 11am together with Marcel Salathe, head of the Digital Epidemiology Lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and Thomas Wiegand of the Technical University of Berlin and head of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI).

The HHI said on Monday that Germany was weeks away from launching a smartphone app that could track close-proximity Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ between devices, making it possible to warn those at risk of infection.