What’s happening with Ireland’s COVID-19 tracking app

On 6 July 2020, the HSE (Health Service Executive), in conjunction with the Department of Health, launched Ireland’s COVID Tracker.

The HSE say that COVID Tracker can:

  • alert you if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus;
  • advise you on what to do to protect yourself and others; and
  • alert other app users that you were in close contact with, if you test positive for coronavirus.

There were over 1 million downloads of the app in the first three days! Considering, we’re a population of approximately 4.7 million, this is a take-up rate of 21%.

Compare this to an 8% up-take in the first twenty-four hours in Germany, a country that uses the same Bluetooth technology as Ireland, and its clear that Ireland is embracing the use of this app.

In the first two weeks of its launch, 91 users received a “close contact exposure alert” – this means they have been in contact with another COVID Tracker user who has tested positive.

Interestingly, Northern Ireland will shortly have access to a similar COVID-19 tracking app, which is made by the company behind Ireland’s app. It is expected that this app will work across the border, as will Ireland’s COVID Tracker – the two health services intend to share a common database of app users with positive results.

But what about your privacy? How is it “tracking” you?

According to the HSE’s “Privacy and how we use your data” page, the app:

  • does not collect your name, age or address;
  • does not hold your phone number unless you choose to share it;
  • cannot be used to track your location;
  • cannot be used to check if you should be self-isolating;
  • can only access information on your phone that you choose to allow;
  • cannot be used to identify your close contacts; and
  • cannot be used to identify people who have tested positive for coronavirus.

In fact, and this is certainly novel in this day and age, you have control over how your data is used – it’s your choice whether or not to use the app and you choose what information you want to share or not.

The HSE appear to have been quite transparent and committed to maintaining the privacy of app users, making the Data Protection Impact Assessment, a product explainer and the source code all publicly available before the app was launched.

So, what’s next?

The message from the HSE and the Department of Health is to download the app so that we can protect one another in the fight against COVID-19 by slowing down the spread of the virus. The decision to download, however, is up to each individual.

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