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Why It’s Hard to Tell If Europe’s Virus Tracing Apps Are Useful

Europe’s experiment in using technology to fight coronavirus has achieved some early successes: millions of people have downloaded smartphone tracker apps and hundreds have uploaded the results of positive COVID-19 tests.

Yet most European countries so far lack solid evidence that their apps – which identify close contacts via Bluetooth connections with nearby users – are actually alerting people who may have caught the disease before they can infect others.

The reason? Design choices made by governments and their app developers to protect people’s privacy.

In many of the 11 European territories using architecture designed by Alphabet’s Google and Apple, apps have been made to be ‘blind’ to warnings of potential exposure to COVID-19 flowing through the system.

In Switzerland, for example, the Federal Office of Public Health acknowledged that “the effectiveness of the SwissCovid App is difficult to measure because of the ‘privacy by design'”.

The weakness puzzles some who have championed the apps. They point out that the Apple-Google framework does allow for some data collection while at the same time making it impossible for governments to stalk their own citizens.

“I find it quite strange that many of the systems are designed not to be able