Hello world. This is the first entry to my name on Mica's blog, so I will introduce myself. My name is Martin, working at Mica in the Software department since 2017. As a software developer, I am fortunate that working from home is perfectly possible in this time of quarantine.
I too am following the developments of possible corona apps with great interest. In just under two weeks, a lot has happened in this area. Right now, I am questioning the technical solutions chosen and the app selection process.

Announcing apps

In the press conference on Tuesday, April 7, Minister Hugo de Jonge announced that apps may be of service against corona expansion. He indicated that the intended goal is to properly get out of the lockdown. On the published tender of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, 750 responses were received with ideas for apps. Of these, seven remained as potential candidates after a selection process. The Personal Data Authority has taken on the task of checking whether the apps comply with the AVG. The AP now indicates unable to make a good judgment on this at this stage because the ministry has not set the frameworks for the apps clearly enough. Also, the apps have not yet been developed far enough to judge.


Interested parties and experts were able to watch the selected apps in an appathon last weekend. The developers made their source code public in a matter of days. A list of these apps can be found at https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/coronavirus-app/app-informatie.
The time pressure involved has encouraged sloppiness. For example, with the publication of the source code of Covid-19 alert a data breach of personal data and encrypted passwords.

Role of apps abroad

Several solutions have already been implemented abroad. In China, people test their own health on a large scale with the Alipay Health Code. This app assigns a color code based on a completed list of health questions. When entering public transportation, for example, you are asked to show your color code. If it is green, you can walk on. An orange screen means you will be quarantined for seven days; a red screen represents 14 days of quarantine.
In Singapore, the government has chosen a direction similar to how the majority of selected apps operate in the Netherlands. The TraceTogether app maintains an anonymous list of devices you have been in contact with via Bluetooth. Infected persons then publish their infection to their accumulated contact list. This is how you know when you have been in contact with an infected person.


Technical and organizational challenges

Although many people have downloaded the TraceTogether app in Singapore, no reduction in the number of infections has been observed. Hugo de Jonge indicated in the April 7 press conference that about 60% of the population must be actively using such an app to be useful. This is one of the problems they face in Singapore. Even though there are many of them, the number of users - one in six of the population - is not enough.
An additional problem is that iOS apps running in the background cannot actively use Bluetooth. In practice, it means your screen must be on and the app active. Your iPhone cannot be in your pocket or purse to expand the contact list. Apple and Google have indicated that they are jointly working on solutions to support contact research apps. It is obvious that these developments will make these kinds of technical problems easier to overcome.

Virtual infection tracking

Tracking infections with Bluetooth is error-prone, in part because it can be received through walls and floors. Therefore, observing a Bluetooth device is also not the same as a corona infection. The longer it is virtually determined who is infected, the further it deviates from reality. It is not a big deal if you get a false notification that you might have become infected. If you stay home out of safety when you don't need to, there are no major negative consequences. It is just important that the detection method be somewhat reliable. If a notification that you are infected is unreliable, you will not attach any value to it.

Google location history

Google has on https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/ reports made available with mobility data by country. These reports are built using users' location history. These are large amounts of aggregated data. For example, the reports show how many people visit parks versus how many normally do.
If the data shows that people are visiting parks en masse, it pays to do a better job of checking there to make sure they are following the one-and-a-half-meter rule. Google's services are not available in every country, but they are available to the majority. I suspect this data is more useful to use than individual Bluetooth contact lists because it is more general and already widely collected. It doesn't matter to an individual if the percentages in the reports are exactly right, but in the larger scheme of things, there are policies to follow.

I think the cabinet grossly underestimated what it would take for an app to be useful in countering the coronavirus. In addition, it seems to me that a technical solution must be set up globally. Every country handles privacy differently, but the technical aspect of contact tracking could be the same for everyone. Therefore, it seems to me that this discussion should be held globally, rather than solving it at the national level.