European Commission published a Recommendation on use of technology and data to combat the COVID-19 crisis
Using smartphones to help trace COVID-19 spread has seen considerable interest in EU capitals this past week, while South Korea has already been using a central tracking app since February a number of national initiatives, as well as the development of pan-European solutions approach is picking up speed. The European Commission has however been quick to act publishing a Recommendation today on a common EU toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and exit from the COVID-19 crisis which focuses, amongst other things on, a common scheme for using anonymized and aggregated data on mobility of populations. The Recommendation is very ambitious, aiming for Member States, together with the Commission and in association with the European Data Protection Board, to develop a toolbox towards a pan-European approach for mobile applications by 15 April 2020.The Recommendation has come in response to several national and cross-border initiatives of which Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) is currently the most well developed. PEPP-PT is a ‘privacy by design’ development platform offering a set of standards, technology, and services to assist national initiatives and developers to get a standardized COVID-19 contact-tracing approach across the European Union.
The PEPP-PT team brings together more than 130 members with expertise in medicine, computer and IT science and artificial intelligence. The development is supported by renowned experts from ETH Zürich, Fraunhofer, the Robert Koch Institute and Vodafone amongst others. Germany reports that it is planning to launch an app based on PEPP-PT on 15 April with the German Government recommending it to its citizens.Technical specifications to ensure that such apps comply with the GDPR and the guidelines set out in the recommendation are however not the only hurdle such tools need to overcome. In order to be useful tools for public health modelling such apps need a wide uptake, estimated published by epidemiologists suggest that at least 60% of a population (of a town, city or country) would need to use the app in order to a critical mass of data to be gathered. For this reason the Recommendation emphasises the importance of compliance with data interoperability standards and the capacity to share data with other systems and applications at national, cross-border and cross-regional level.