Fighting COVID-19 through the use of mobile data applications

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In order to find a way out of the COVID-19 crisis, multiple member states believe that the use of mobile data applications could serve as an effective instrument to trace the spread of the virus. The use of such applications could warn citizens if they have been close to infected people, and will then tell them to go in quarantine or get tested for COVID-19. On 8 April, the European Commission published a Recommendation to support exit strategies through mobile data and apps.

The use of these applications can be a breakthrough for public health purposes and to get a better understanding of the spread of the virus. At the same time, the use of these applications, which process the location data of people, has led to privacy concerns among European citizens and policymakers. The EU is often lauded for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but the introduction of tracing applications poses a threat for member states to comply with this act.

On 16 April, as part of the above-mentioned recommendation, the Commission published an EU toolbox for the use of mobile applications for contact tracing and warning. To address privacy concerns, the toolbox includes a guidance to ensure full data protection standards of contact tracing apps. First of all, the application should be voluntary and the user has to give consent for every separate functionality of the application. The guidance also recommends member states to only use Bluetooth to have people’s applications interact, and to ensure that data storage is decentralized. Use of personal data will have to be minimized and the data should not be stored longer than necessary. The Commission also discourages the use of location data, as this would not be necessary for the purpose of contact tracing.

The recommendations suggest that the European COVID-19 app will be different from the version used in Asian countries, as people stay in charge of their personal data and the data is decentralized as it should be stored and encrypted on an individual’s personal device.

The impact of the broad application of such applications on the e-commerce sector is not yet known, but Ecommerce Europe keeps monitoring the developments.

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