Italy’s New COVID-19 App Tracks Contacts and Protects Privacy

Italy’s new contact tracing app for the coronavirus is about to be launched in a number of pilot regions. It will be available to everyone in the country on a voluntary basis and will guarantee the privacy of users, officials who commissioned its development say.
Italians will be able to download the contact tracing app on their mobile phones that will help combat the spread of the coronavirus, starting May 29.  “Immuni” was developed at the request of Italy’s Ministry of Innovation Technology and Digital Transformation. Paolo de Rosa, its chief technology officer, says the app can speed up the process of finding people who have had contact with the coronavirus.
“The app is able to do that in a privacy-preserving way so it is not like the traditional approach where you need to identify people. In this case there is only an alerting of people that have been in contact with someone that result positive,” de Rosa said.
    How contract tracing apps work
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Those alerted they have come close to someone that has tested positive for the coronavirus can quickly take action and contact health authorities or their personal physician.
De Rosa stressed that privacy is guaranteed as special measures have been taken and it would be extremely difficult to identify anyone using the app. The only data that a user must provide is the territorial province to which he or she belongs.
For the app to be fully effective, de Rosa said, there needs to be a significant amount of people using it, up to 60 percent, but that is only if one does not take into consideration other factors like social distancing. In any case, de Rosa is convinced that it will be a useful tool to have on one’s phone. “This is a very bleeding edge technology, very few countries in the world have used it,” he said.
Creating the app was no easy matter, de Rosa said, adding trade-offs had to be made between the requirements of health authorities and privacy. Knowledge was shared with many other countries as well, but no one really knew what the best app needed to look like. With such a highly infectious virus, the need for a tool that would help speed up contact tracing was considered essential to break the chain of the contagion.

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