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Sacrificing your Privacy to tackle the Pandemic?
The problem of trust affecting achieving critical mass
The Italian government has opted to pursue a smartphone app called Immuni to support their management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been global criticism on the use of smartphone apps to help slow the spread of COVID-19, as people are often concerned about the privacy and potential for abuse by the government and law enforcement. Which could hinder the success, unless public acceptance can be gained.
For such an application to be functional, the Italian government needs to convince and encourage 60% of the population to install and operate the app. To give you an idea, 72% of the Italian population own and use a smartphone, meaning 84% of smartphone users (36 million active users) are required for the Immuni app to be a success.
Yet, being an Immuni user will mean allowing the government to track their identity because of the dependency on geolocation on the app.
How does it work?
- Upon free download and installation, Immuni generates a secure, unique identifier to represent you and your smartphone.
- Once your code has been generated, your handset will use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a potent yet efficient short-range wireless communication system, to periodically broadcast your identifier and collect identifiers that are in range.
- Once exchanged, identifiers are stored for 15 days on both the user’s handset and on Immuni’s servers.
- No personal information is used or transmitted within the App nor to the services used by the App.
- The only information stored is a list of unique identifiers, the time and date that these identifiers were in proximity. The actual location of the event, names of individuals, genders and other personal data are not processed, stored or transmitted.
The list of unique identifiers will allow the government to know the location of the users anytime, who they are and who they are associating with. Although no personal information will be stored, it is no surprise that the public is reluctant to surveillance even in times of a pandemic.
How will the data be used?
Ideally, the testing station or hospital should have the capability to trigger an alert to the public when an Immuni user-tested positive in a particular area, so people can get themselves tested as soon as possible. Immuni has the potential to detect and monitor second or third wave outbreaks or even future outbreaks of COVID-19.
How are the privacy concerns being addressed?
To address the privacy concerns, the Italian government are being urged to publish the source code for the App for public and professional scrutiny.
So, the question is, does it have to be a trade-off between Privacy and potentially human lives?
Hopefully, some of these questions will be answered soon as Immuni is set to undergo final assessment and preparation for release during the next fortnight.
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