COVID-19 Contact Tracing App by Google, Apple Piloted in Switzerland

tracing app displayed on phoneOperation is decentralized, as the two companies required.

By Rick Richardson

The very first contact tracing app powered by Google and Apple’s exposure notification APIs has gone live in Switzerland.

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The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne is now undertaking a large-scale pilot of the “SwissCovid” app, with hopes that it will pave the way for public availability soon.

Institute employees, some hospitals and local governments are the first to be able to download the digital proximity tracing application.

“Several thousand people in Switzerland can now download ‘SwissCovid,’ the official application for tracing contacts at risk of transmission of COVID-19, if they wish,” the institute said.

“This is the first time that the operating system updates from Google and Apple enable its deployment and testing on such a large scale,” said Professor Edouard Bugnion, vice president for information systems at the institute. He was at the heart of discussions with Google and Apple to have them adopt the “DP3T” protocol led by the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology.

Alfredo Sanchez, project manager, noted that “this gives great responsibility to the Swiss testers, as many other countries intend to adopt the same protocol later on.”

One important footnote is that while the pilot is ongoing, the Swiss parliament will deliberate revisions to the law on epidemics. Lawmakers must debate and approve the scheme before it is offered to the public, however recent research has suggested that as many as 70 perecnt of Swiss residents support the program.

This is the first large-scale testing of an app that uses Apple and Google’s exposure notification technology. As per the two companies’ stipulations, the operation is also decentralized.

SwissCovid operates in a “decentralized” way, which means that the operations that are essential from a privacy point of view are not carried out on a centralized server, but on each phone.

The app uses Bluetooth to exchange and record the ephemeral proximity identifiers of other phones in the vicinity. These identifiers are kept on the phone unless a person tests positive for COVID-19. In that case, their doctor will give them a single-use code that allows them to voluntarily share the ephemeral keys on their own phone that correspond to the days when the person was contagious. These keys are sent to a server managed by the Swiss administration.

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