Mobile apps and data at heart of European Commission coronavirus toolbox

A common toolbox has been compiled to help EU member states take a coordinated and standards-based approach to support exit strategies from their coronavirus containment measures.
By Piers Ford
08:21 am
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The European Commission has adopted a recommendation to support exit strategies with a standardised approach to mobile data usage and apps development as some member states begin a slow relaxation of measures implemented in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Digital tools are central to the recommendation, which is based on the adoption of a toolbox currently on schedule to be available from today (April 15), according to a spokesperson.

The toolbox focuses on two main aspects: a coordinated pan-European approach for the use of mobile apps that allow citizens to practise social distancing more effectively, and enable contact tracing; and a common approach for modelling and predicting the evolution of the virus, taking data security and EU privacy rights into consideration.

The recommendation of a joint toolbox for the use of tracing apps that respect EU data protection standards follows the close study of apps developed and adopted by individual countries, including the way they have addressed the crisis and their impact on data protection.

It consists of specifications to ensure the effectiveness of mobile information, warning and tracing apps from a medical and technical point of view, and measures to avoid the proliferation of incompatible applications through interoperability and the promotion of common solutions.

The toolbox also includes public health authority-led governance mechanisms, overseen by the European Centre for Disease Control, and the identification of good practices and mechanisms for information exchange and app functionality.

Shared data

It allows for data sharing with relevant epidemiological public bodies, including aggregated data with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

A common approach to the sharing of anonymous and aggregated mobile location data to monitor the evolution of the virus through mobility pattern analysis, the impact of confinement measures on the intensity of contacts and the risk of contamination is also a core aspect of the toolbox.

Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said that digital technologies, mobile applications and mobility data have enormous potential to help understand how the virus spreads and to respond effectively.

“With this recommendation, we put in motion a European coordinated approach for the use of such apps and data, without compromising on our EU privacy and data protection rules, and avoiding the fragmentation of the internal market,” he said. “Europe is stronger when it acts united.”

Guidance on privacy implications is also expected to be provided this week.

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