Story at a glance
- Ireland's public health agency developed a COVID Tracker app as part of contact tracing efforts to address the pandemic.
- The developers have donated the code for the app to the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit that coordinates open source software.
- The Open Source code is called COVID Green.
Contact tracing, when done right, can be a vital public health tool during a pandemic. So to track the potential spread of coronavirus, Ireland’s public health agency, Health Service Executive (HSE), developed a contact tracking app that used Bluetooth signals on smartphones to track the exposure of its users.
In the first 36 hours, 1 million people installed it according to NearForm, which developed the app that now has more than 1.3 million installations, or 37 percent of people in Ireland with compatible devices. Now, Ireland’s HSE is donating the code for its contact tracing app to the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit that coordinates open source software.
Nearform CEO Cian Ó Maidín tweeted that the company was ready to work with any government to help develop the app.
We now have a solution for contact tracing for governments— Cian Ó Maidín (@Cianomaidin) July 8, 2020
The NearForm team can get a national contact tracing system launched in one month
The app, named COVID Green, uses both Apple and Google application programming interfaces, meaning it can work on both iOS and Android smartphones. It keeps a log of all devices that were within about 6 feet of your smartphone for more than 15 minutes, which public health experts consider unsafe exposure. If you test positive, or someone else does, the app uses the log to alert those who were exposed and are now possibly infected.
The source code is now available on GitHub, and NearForm says the matching backend code will soon be available as well. This allows other developers, companies and countries to create their own apps. NearForm told Business Insider the company has been in touch with several states interested in the technology, including Pennsylvania, although the state's department of health said the contract was not yet finalized.
Other countries, including Germany and South Korea, which have been highly successful in containing the coronavirus, have rolled out similar apps in recent months. But a major security flaw in the South Korean app that has since been fixed reflects some of the concerns around privacy that the technology is still overcoming. The Irish Examiner reported that in addition to sharing location data with Google and Apple, the app could also be sharing a user's IP address, International Mobile Equipment Identity serial number, phone number and email address.
The app does require a level of personal responsibility, as well as ample access to testing. And like many public health tools, its effectiveness can be hard to measure, especially with privacy protection measures. Germany's Corona-Warn-App reported that about 500 users had tested positive for the virus and may have used the app to warn others.
"We cannot say exactly how many people were warned, because of the decentralised approach of the app,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, which developed the app, told BBC.
BREAKING NEWS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC