In a few days the new app proposed by the government for covid-19, optimistically named “Immune”, will be operational. It will be possible to download it for free, it will start initially in some regions and its use will be completely voluntary.
The app will be composed of a part dedicated to contact tracing via bluetooth and a database that will be our clinical diary, where to record data on the health condition and the appearance of symptoms compatible with the virus.
How it works
Once you download the app on your phone, it comes into contact with other devices on which it has been downloaded, exchanging codes that will be saved on individual devices. If one of the owners of the phones tests positive, the app will notify all devices with which the person has come into contact that they have encountered a positive person without detecting their identity. The data will detect if the contact was greater than 15 minutes and within two meters. The Immuni App will not be mandatory, but voluntary, there will also be no discrimination of any kind for those who do not install it, that is, some restriction of their rights.
The application will not have access to the contacts’ address book, it will not ask to know the user’s phone number and it will not send SMS to notify those at risk; it will not store data related to the geolocation of users and it will be totally managed by public entities.
Any solution adopted cannot disregard a coordination with the other European states, for this purpose it would be desirable that the European Union develops a shared solution for the technological contrast of the virus and all European countries guarantee the interoperability of the solutions or at least adapt to the most promising project arisen within the Union. This would allow people to continue to be tracked across borders without changing apps.
The European Union has repeatedly urged the adoption of a shared solution at community level for the technological management of the pandemic, indicating as a way forward the development of an app based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology, interoperable at community level, voluntary, respectful of privacy, accessible and inclusive.
To understand the Italian choices, however, it is necessary to compare ourselves with the oriental experiences of contact tracing, often seen as intrusive and sometimes coercive; in Singapore a system is used (Trace together) in some respects similar to Immuni, which however has the limitation of not being effective if it is not adopted by a high percentage of users. In China, on the other hand, applications already present on the smartphones of its citizens (WeChat and Alipay) have been exploited, but encountering problems in the obligatory imposition of the app, linked to the possibility of using certain services. In Hong Kong, on the other hand, all incoming persons are given a bracelet that monitors their movements for the duration of their presence. The Korean solution has a strict voluntary approach, but it is not very respectful of the personal data of citizens subjected to tracking. The only real alternative to the development of an app at the European level is perhaps the global solution proposed by Google and Apple, for now still under development, which is based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and encrypts the user’s data on their device, assigning them a temporary ID, which varies often and is exchanged via Bluetooth with nearby devices. The app logs contacts for 14 days and allows, in case of positivity, to share contact data from the previous two weeks and forward an automatic message to all these contacts, proving to be also quite secure from external hacker attacks.
If Italy will follow the path inaugurated by Singapore and perfected by Apple and Google, using an app based on Bluetooth Low Energy we could have an efficient contact tracing solution in the fight against the pandemic, respectful of privacy. The real problem is represented by the condition that the Immuni app will “work” only if it reaches a high percentage of users (about two out of three). To ensure the highest possible number of accessions it would be useful that nothing negative happens in case of contact with an infected person: the app, once it receives the indication that a person has tested positive, sends a notification to all IDs who have been “in contact” with him in the previous two weeks; the notified person is simply put in the condition of knowing the risk of contagion, it will be up to him to voluntarily adopt more precautionary measures.
It would be desirable, compatibly with the availability of swabs, to test the notified subjects and subject them to isolation only if they are positive. Deleterious and therefore not applicable if the app is voluntary, provide measures of prudential isolation for all subjects alerted to contact with a positive. For this tool to work, a global communication campaign will be needed, and adoption will have to be felt by all as indispensable. There will be no room for division, speculation, lack of transparency, indecision. If this is the solution, it is time for everyone to adopt it. A partial adoption would only expose to risks the subjects with downloaded apps, who could be infected by healthy carriers without apps that continue to circulate undisturbed.
And that would be absurd.