App developed by EEUM researchers helps to prevent Covid-19

The HASLab researcher and professor of the Department of Informatics of the EEUM, José Orlando Pereira, explains in an interview to the EEUM what the Stayaway Covid 19 app consists of and how we can use it to help prevent contagion by Covid-19.


– What is the StayAway Covid app?

The COVID StayAway application is a mobile phone based technology solution to alert potentially infected citizens more quickly, so that they can take additional precautionary measures (hygiene and individual isolation, for example) that limit new contagion during the pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic phase of the disease. In this way, it aims to contribute to the measures of deconfinement that can make our life simpler and more normal. Additional information is available on the project website.


How does it works?

In a simplified way, each phone generates random numbers which it broadcasts, using Bluetooth, to other devices in its vicinity. Each receiver registers them in cases where it considers, taking into account the duration and attenuation of the received signals, that there is a close and prolonged contact. Following a verified diagnosis, the user causes the application to publish the random numbers it broadcasts on a web site that can be read by everyone. Each phone will then make a comparison between the recently received numbers and the published numbers that correspond to the diagnoses, thus discovering whether any of their past contacts were in fact a potential contagion. The StayAway application therefore works according to the DP^3T system, which is described in a recent pre-publication.


– Is the application effective in tracing to COVID-19?

At the moment there is no experience with these applications to say clearly whether or not they are effective. There is, however, a credible study that points in that direction. Given that the cost, both in economic terms of developing and operating the system and in terms of inconvenience to citizens, is so low compared to other measures being adopted at the moment, it is certainly worth trying. In fact, the road to normality may be precisely the sum of several partially effective measures, which together completely resolve the situation.


– How is data security ensured?

Data security and privacy are fundamentally guaranteed by minimizing the collection of such data. Firstly, because the data exchanged are just random numbers that do not reveal any information about you or your phone. In fact, in the approach taken by StayAway COVID there is no prior registration on a central server nor any unique identifier of each active application, unlike what happens with systems in other countries which, as a consequence, have led to (justified!) controversy and distrust. Secondly, because a user’s application that does not contract the disease never discloses any data: the application downloads, but never loads any information to the central server. Thirdly, because all the information in that central system is public and its dissemination is therefore not a risk.


– When will it be available and to whom?

The application is currently in validation, together with the system that supports it. It will initially have a restricted distribution for testing with the support of healthcare institutions and civil society, but will then be made available free to everyone on Google and Apple platforms. The date of this publication depends on the method to be defined for the validation of diagnoses, but will hopefully still be during the month of June.

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