Health

Italy launches COVID-19 contact-tracing app amid privacy concerns

ROME – Italy on Monday released a contested mobile app to trace coronavirus infections in four regions before extending it to the whole country, despite widespread resistance from people concerned about invasion of privacy.

Since early May Italy has been gradually easing restrictions on movement and business activities, but there is concern that infections may surge again if people don’t stick to social distancing rules.

The app dubbed “Immuni” (immune) is aimed at reducing the risk of such flare-ups by recording when users are in close proximity with each other. Their mobile phones will exchange codes through Bluetooth technology.

If a person tests positive for the virus, the app tells recent contacts to self-isolate and get tested, helping health authorities to react quickly and limit contagion.

“In this way we will be able to identify someone who was sitting on the bus next to an infected person,” Pier Luigi Lopalco, head of the COVID-19 emergency unit in the Puglia region which is among those piloting the app, told Reuters.

There has been heated debate in Italy over possible privacy violations, but the government has said users’ personal data will not be collected and the app will not geolocate them.

In addition, all recorded contact logs must be deleted once the health emergency is over or by Dec. 31 at the latest.

However only 44% of Italians said they would probably or certainly download Immuni, according to survey by pollster EMG Acqua on May 26, while 24% would definitely not download it.

On-the-ground testing of the app, which has been developed by tech start-up Bending Spoons, will start on June 8 in the Liguria, Abruzzo, Marche and Puglia regions.

Immuni is based on software launched last month by Apple and Google, whose operating systems power 99% of the world’s smartphones.

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