Ireland releases COVID-19 Tracker app using Apple/Google Exposure Notification API

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Ireland has debuted its COVID-19 Tracker application today, its solution to help contract trace and slow the spread of coronavirus. The app is built using the Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google, and users in Ireland can download it from the App Store now as well as Google Play.

The COVID-19 Tracker Ireland application was released to the App Store today by the Health Service Executive, which is the agency responsible for the provision of health and personal social services for everyone living in Ireland. The app has three primary functionalities, the agency says:

  1. Contact tracing
  2. COVID-19 check-in for monitoring symptoms and tracking how you feel
  3. Updates and information for the latest facts and figures about coronavirus in Ireland

Here’s how the contact tracing functionality works, according to the HSE:

Contact tracing identifies people who were in close contact with someone who has coronavirus. For example, family members, friends, colleagues, or fellow travelers. The app will help contact tracing by:

  • Reducing the time it takes to alert you if you’re a close contact
  • Notifying close contacts that might have been forgotten
  • Enabling us to contact people who are unknown to each other

The app uses Bluetooth technology and anonymous IDs to log:

  • Any phone you are in contact with that also has the app installed
  • The distances between your phone and other phones that use the app
  • The length of time your phone is near other phones that use the app

The HSE explains that the app will download a list of anonymous IDs every two hours, reinforcing the importance of widespread adoption of the new application:

Every 2 hours the app on your phone downloads a list of anonymous IDs. These have been shared with the HSE by people using the app who have tested positive for coronavirus. If you have been closer than 2 meters for more than 15 minutes with any of these phones you will receive a notification that you are a close contact. You won’t know who the contact is or where the contact happened.

You can also use the COVID-19 Tracker app to report that you have tested positive for COVID-19.

Privacy is a tentpole of the Exposure Notification API and perhaps the biggest privacy protection in Apple and Google’s technology is that location data plays no part in how it works. The two companies say that these applications should collect as little data as possible, and location data is not needed for this Bluetooth-based approach.

More details on the Exposure Notification API:

  • The entire system is opt-in
  • Other applications for contact tracing will be allowed in the App Stores; they can adopt Apple and Google’s API, but they must remove all Location Services features and adopt the privacy frameworks of the Apple and Google API
  • Contact tracing data is only stored on a user’s device
  • Contact tracing data is only processed on a user’s device
  • Public health agencies can define what constitutes an exposure event
  • Public health agencies can determine the number of exposure events a person has had
  • Transmission risk of positive cases can be factored into the definition of an exposure event
  • Public health agencies can contact exposed users based on a combination fo the API and data that users voluntarily choose to input into the app

The COVID-19 Tracker Ireland application is available on the App Store for free to iPhone users in Ireland. Android users can also find it in the Play Store in Ireland. You can keep up with the adoption of the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API in the United States here. The UK announced last month that it will use the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API after all.

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