European countries rally around cross-border contact tracing solution

Apple and Google Partner On COVID-19 Contact Tracing Technology
Apple and Google Partner On COVID-19 Contact Tracing Technology (Image credit: Google)

What you need to know

  • Seven European countries are collaborating on a contact tracing effort.
  • They want to ensure that people can use the same app across multiple borders within the area.
  • Backers include Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in the region, and Germany.

Seven European countries including Italy and Germany want to see a contact tracing app that will work across European borders so that people don't have to install a different app every time they visit another country.

As reported by Reuters:

A European coalition is forming around an approach to using smartphone technology to trace coronavirus infections that, its backers hope, could help to reopen borders without unleashing a second wave of the pandemic.Supporters of the phone-based approach from Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland this week backed a roadmap here to enable national apps to 'talk' to each other and handle infections when people travel abroad.

The report notes that crucially, the system backed by these countries is decentralized, meaning that user data would only be stored on people's devices. Not only is this more private and secure, it means that the app would function in the background on iOS and Android so that it would actually work. After weeks of denial, Australia's government yesterday admitted that its COVIDSafe app did not work on iOS because it had not adopted Apple and Google's contact tracing technology. The UK is also reportedly exploring the possibility of switching to the technology.

The report continues:

"Interoperability of proximity tracing apps across borders is crucial," said Cas Cremers of the CISPA cybersecurity institute, brought to advise on Germany's app plan after Berlin recently switched to the 'decentralized' camp.Of the European coalition, only Austria has so far rolled out an app. Stopp Corona, developed by Accenture for the Red Cross, has been downloaded 570,000 times and is being tweaked to run on a decentralized architecture.

The news is an encouraging sign that European countries may be able to operate a contact tracing app that works across multiple EU countries, rather than requiring visitors to download a new app each time they visit a certain country. It is also encouraging to see momentum building behind Apple and Google's technology, meaning these apps will be more functional and more secure.

Stephen Warwick