The consortium PEPP-PT (initials in English of “Pan-European proximity tracking preserving confidentiality”) is made up of 130 scientists, technologists and experts from institutions in eight European countries. They are publishing this week technical principles and open source computer code which should make it possible to create mobile applications allowing them to get out of confinement.
The PEPP-PT technique is based on what is called the contact tracing, that is, analyzing the history of people's proximity to each other. This works thanks to the Bluetooth of mobile phones, this short range radio signal which allows smartphones located in a very limited area to “communicate” with each other.
This system must make it possible to inform the population of the risks of individual contamination. If a person is detected positive, the other people with whom he has been in contact previously will be immediately notified via notifications on their mobile phones. They will then be asked to take precautions, which may go as far as quarantining.
The contact tracing PEPP-PT works on the basis of encrypted identifiers that remain inside the phone. Interactions between mobiles are done anonymously. This makes it a process compliant with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), much more respectful of privacy than geolocation by GPS. This type of system is used in particular in Singapore and Taiwan.
The advantage is that the PEPP-PT group works with a European approach. Thus, the applications developed in the different countries should be able to communicate with each other, which should allow, in the future, a resumption of travel, at least in the European area.
The fact remains that such an application, if it does emerge, does not seem to constitute a miracle solution. The goal is to track the virus as closely as possible to avoid being overwhelmed. This will have to be accompanied by other measures, such as the wearing of masks and especially screening tests. Finally, it will also require that such an application be used by a maximum of people. However, this will probably not be compulsory, because the Data Protection Act does not allow it, but is based on volunteering.