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Contact tracing app prioritises testing over self-diagnosis

Germany’s forthcoming contact tracing app will be markedly different to the app in development in the U.K. and the approach being considered for the U.S. Notably, most notably it will rely on tests, rather than self-diagnosis, for alerts and is taking a decentralised approach to increase data privacy.

READ MORE: U.S. plan for COVID-19 case finding and contact tracing

Contact tracing is a core approach to controlling any kind of infectious disease outbreak. Traditionally the process is dependent upon health workers interviewing patients. Given the extent of the coronavirus pandemic attempts are being made to automate the process using apps and with an emphasis upon individuals to self-report.

Given these approaches to app design vary, and with the German approach differing to most other nations, Professor Irene Ng, CEO of Dataswift, and sponsor of the contact tracing app Sharetrace, tells Digital Journal about the merits and potential challenges facing Germany’s approach.

According to Ng: “The German Government is absolutely right that privacy has to be at the heart of any contact tracing application. Without data privacy guarantees, it will be extremely difficult for any authority to get the mass downloads they need for the contact tracing to actually be effective.”

This does not mean that the German concept is fool proof, however, as Ng explains: “This application has its own challenges – most notably the reliance on testing. Currently, testing is not widespread, accurate or fast enough to be used as the basis of contact tracing. There is simply too little data for it to be reliable.”

Ng adds further: “While imperfect, self-diagnosis is a far faster and more accessible way to generate the data points needed to know if someone is likely to have come in contact with a person with COVID-19. What we would contend is that an application reliant on self-diagnosis also needs to sacrifice privacy – it doesn’t. There is no reason that data from self-diagnosis could not also be collected and stored in a secure and compliant way.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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