Limerick brothers design new contact-tracing app

A brand new form of contact-tracing smartphone app, designed by two Limerick brothers, seeks to refine the tracking of the coronavirus while at the same time not impacting on its subjects’ civil liberties.
Limerick brothers design new contact-tracing app

The not-for-profit app makes no use of location-tagging software, say developers. Picture: Philip Toscano
The not-for-profit app makes no use of location-tagging software, say developers. Picture: Philip Toscano

A brand new form of contact-tracing smartphone app, designed by two Limerick brothers, seeks to refine the tracking of the coronavirus while at the same time not impacting on its subjects’ civil liberties.

In recent weeks, it emerged that the HSE is in the process of commissioning a contact-tracing app, similar to those employed in Singapore and South Korea, to expedite the process of curbing the spread of Covid-19 by tracing a person’s interactions.

However, the use of Bluetooth and location-tagging, which would be critical to the operation of the app, has prompted expressions of worry by civil liberties and privacy campaigners, with scepticism expressed as to the app’s compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The newer, not-for-profit app, known as Tracing Ireland’s Population (TIP), has been developed within the past two weeks and “proposed to the relevant Government agencies” according to developer and data scientist Paul Byrnes, who created the app with his brother Patrick, of Croom Precision Medical in Limerick.

An opt-in technology, it works by having members of the public track their movements and interactions, and allowing those data points to be uploaded to a contact-tracing reference database. This has an advantage over manual contact-tracing, which is dependent on a subject’s memory and only begins once a positive virus result is returned.

The app makes no use of location-tagging software and crucially, according to Mr Byrnes, “will cease to exist once the pandemic is over”.

He said that the app is in the “latter stages of a funding call” with Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, and, if successful, would be presented to the HSE as a ready solution “within days”.

Mr Byrnes added that a full data protection impact assessment “will be carried out before public rollout”.

Meanwhile, the HSE said that its own solution, known as the CovidTracker Ireland app, “will be designed in a way that maximises privacy”.

“The implementation timeline will be determined by the technical progress and the results from the security and product testing that is under way,” a spokesperson said.

“When it is ready, the Department of Health and the HSE will formally launch the app with clear instructions on how to download and use it.”

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