SwissCovid tracing app accidentally made available to public

The Swiss army has been recruited (on a voluntary basis) to help test the SwissCovid tracing app. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

The public has had access to a Swiss-made contact tracing app despite it being in the testing phase and yet to be approved by parliament. The DP-3T “SwissCovid” app was openly available in the Google Play Store for several hours when access should have been restricted.

This content was published on May 26, 2020 - 11:50

A spokesman for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), which co-designed the app, said the mistake had been rectified on Tuesday morning. Emmanuel Barraud told that there was no way of telling how many unauthorised people had downloaded the app but that this should not affect the effectiveness of the test phase.

On Monday, employees of the Swiss army, of several hospitals and cantonal administrations, and of federal technology institutes EPFL and ETH Zurich were given access to the app on a voluntary basis as part of a large-scale pilot phase in Switzerland

Access was successfully restricted on iPhones, but for several hours any Android user could search for the app and download it. On Tuesday morning Google Play Store said more than 1,000 people had downloaded the app, but no further details are known of the number of downloads and how many were outside the authorised test group.

Barraud said the increased data could actually help determine the effectiveness of the app during the test phase. He added that doctors had been told not to issue confirmations of Covid-19 infections to anyone outside the test group. This is needed to generate a code to alert other app users.

World first

The app employs Bluetooth technology that allows smartphones to communicate with each another anonymously.

If a person tests positive for coronavirus, everyone with whom that person was in contact in previous days – within two metres of proximity for more than 15 minutes – is alerted via the app to isolate themselves and get tested.

The Swiss authorities say the decentralised “SwissCovid” app is the first in the world to use the OS updates from Apple and Google. Parliament will debate the legal basis for the app in June and, if approved, it should be made available to the public by mid-June.

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