Ireland launched its COVID Tracker App on the 7th of July 2020 to assist at the crucial contact tracing stage to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus. The app was created with the assistance of the Government Chief Information Officer and An Garda Síochána, who worked closely together with technical partners from the Irish private sector and scientific partners from Science Foundation Ireland – designed and developed with privacy at its core.

By employing a decentralised model, the app will record if a user is in close contact with another user by exchanging anonymous codes. If a person who has downloaded the app then tests positive for Covid-19, they can choose to anonymously alert other app users who they have been in close contact with. Close contact data is stored on the users’ phone and not on a government server.

With almost 1.5 million downloads since its release, the launch of the COVID Tracker App, according to Paul Reid, Director-General of the HSE has been “the most successful launch of this type of app anywhere in the world”.

COVID Tracker App

Helping Society Battle Covid-19

Like many apps, it can be downloaded from the App or Google Play stores; on phones with iOS or Android operating systems. The app is intended to assist contact tracing and uses Bluetooth technology to determine whether you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. This does not mean this app will tell you if you have Covid-19 but will be able to tell you if you’ve been in contact with someone who has since been positively diagnosed.

When downloaded, the app will ask for permission to collect and share anonymous data in order to facilitate contact tracing; while it will also ask for your phone number, you do not have to provide it and it also does not require location data.

If an app user tests positive for Covid-19, the app will notify any app users that have been closer than two metres for more than 15 minutes of the positive case. The app also provides the latest information on Covid-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalisations specific to counties across the Republic of Ireland.

The more people who download and actively use the app, the more it will help society in the battle against Covid-19.

Global Standards Progress for Covid-19 Contact Tracing apps

The release of the COVID Tracker App has been welcomed by the Data Protection Commission in Ireland. Deputy Data Protection Commissioner, Graham Doyle said, “We are very happy with how the process has gone… it is an example of where the Government and the tech sector have come together to leverage the technology and the data in the public interest".

Internationally, ETSI's ‘Europe for Privacy-Preserving Pandemic Protection’ Group (E4P) commenced work in June on the interoperability of Covid-19 contact tracing app technology involving over 50 representatives. These range from government, EC representatives, vendors, operators and research bodies to ethics, legal and cybersecurity players.

The group is comparing existing contact tracing systems and will examine the similarities and differences of the various available approaches. This will cover key issues such as interoperability, security aspects, different device platforms and privacy aspects.

The group aims to have a report on its findings published by the end of the summer.

Further reading

You can read more about Ireland’s COVID Tracker app and how it works here.

In addition, below are some of the latest papers and documents on automated contact tracing:

Coronavirus Contact Tracing App Privacy: What Data Is Shared By The Singapore OpenTrace App?https://www.scss.tcd.ie/Doug.Leith/pubs/opentrace_privacy.pdf

Outpacing the Virus: Digital Response to Containing the Spread of COVID-19 while Mitigating Privacy Risks (Harvard Center for Ethics)

COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Review: Exit through the App Store? (Ada Lovelace Institute)

Contact Tracing Mobile Apps for COVID-19: Privacy Considerations and Related Trade-offs (Cho, Ippolito, Yu)

PACT: Private Automated Contact Tracing (MIT)