Over one million people have now downloaded Ireland’s Covid-19 tracker app.
Ireland has now joined Italy and Germany who have already activated their tracing apps as tools to avoid a second wave of coronavirus infections.
But what does it actually do and how does it work?
The Covid Tracker App is free to download and use to anyone who is living in or visiting the island of Ireland. The services are intended only for people living in or visiting the island of Ireland. (Availability of the Covid Tracker App to people living or visiting Northern Ireland is intended to help us to inform people living in border areas and to trace cases in those areas.)
Developed for the HSE by NearForm Ltd, the app will not work on an iPhone 6 or earlier as it needs at least iOS 13 to work.
The first time anyone uses the app they are prompted to allow the app to collect and share the anonymous data transmitted by nearby devices that also have the app installed. Use of the App requires an Android or iPhone mobile telephone device which supports Android 6.0 or higher (in the case of Android phones) or iOS 13.5 or later (in the case of iPhones). In addition, in order to operate correctly, the App also requires Bluetooth functionally turned on and the Covid Exposure Notification service enabled.
If you consent to certain services provided by the App and want to receive those services, you will need to enable Bluetooth and location services and you will need to permit push notifications from the App. The App will prompt you about enabling these services and providing permissions if and when you give your consent to receive the different services from the App.
Health minister Stephen Donnelly has called it a “powerful” tool and encourages those who have not yet downloaded the app to do so. The Minister also addressed privacy concerns – saying that there will be no giant centralised storing of personal data and users will be able to choose to share as much or as little personal information as they want.
The app uses capabilities of mobile operating systems. Apple and Google have developed a method that allows specific government-only COVID-19 apps to make use of Bluetooth technology on phones that would otherwise not be available. As the app will need to use the most current version of the phone’s operating system users may be asked to upgrade the first time they use it. None of the information in this app is ever shared with Apple or Google.
72 percent accuracy rate may not be possible
According to the report card by The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Digital Rights Ireland (DRI), they said the location data and symptom tracking used by the app extended beyond the single purpose of contact tracing and that there was no proof in documents published by the HSE and Department of Health that the app could improve the speed and accuracy of contact tracing.
The report queries a HSE claim that the app can accurately detect 72 percent of close contacts using the Google/Apple software. It cited research carried out at Trinity College which found that a 72 percent accuracy rate may not be possible and that Bluetooth contact-tracing would struggle to discern whether contacts were more or less than 2m away.
We spoke to Green Party’s Eoin Madden , who, in addition to politics, is also involved in software development, particularly around credit card payments.
“If you want to join the fight against Covd-19, the most important thing you should do, rather than download the app, although that is a good thing too, is wear a mask when you are in enclosed spaces with other people. Once you have a smartphone, once you download any app onto that smartphone, you are trading your privacy against its use for some utility. There is some data sent from your phone to the HSE and the CSO, data sent back to them is anonymous. The utility is that you are helping to combat Covid-19, so it’s worth the small loss of privacy.”
Going on further to explain the process involved within the app, he said “The contact tracing is done on the phone, your phone produces these random codes, it broadcasts them out via Bluetooth and then other phones in the area, if close enough, will pull down those random codes that our phone generated.”
The Covid-19 Tracker app is expected to be number one on all App stores in Ireland with its vital piece of technology which allows you to inform close contacts if you’ve tested positive.