Swiss pull out of European contact tracing App project

The race is on to develop contact tracing Apps that can help fight coronavirus and prevent further outbreaks. Keystone

Two Swiss technology institutes have distanced themselves from a European anti-coronavirus tracing App project, saying it is not respectful enough of personal privacy.

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The Federal Technology Institute Lausanne (EPFL) and the ETH Zurich have been participating in the “Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing” project (PEPP-PT), which involves 130 organizations from eight countries. But on Friday leading EPFL epidemiologist Marcel Salathé tweeted that he was personally distancing himself from it, saying that “right now, PEPP-PT is not open enough, and it is not transparent enough”.

EPFL president Martin Vetterli confirmed on Swiss television RTS that his institution was looking for another solution. On Friday evening the website heidi.news reported that ETH Zurich was also pulling out.

PEPP-PT is one of several projects being developed around the world to fight coronavirus through smartphones. The idea is to develop an App allowing smartphones to communicate anonymously with each other using Bluetooth technology. If a person tests positive for coronavirus, all the people with whom that person was in contact in previous days could be alerted so as to isolate themselves and get tested.

EPFL and ETH Zurich are now putting their energies into another system called DP-3T. This is being developed by a team of 26 European researchers led by professor Carmela Troncoso at EPFL. The main difference with PEPP-PT is that data is to be stored decentrally in telephones rather than centrally, which is seen as a better guarantee of personal privacy. 


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