The government has launched a contact tracing app into app stores.
Our technology editor Adrian Weckler runs through what it is, how it works and what it will and won’t do.
More information can be found at https://covidtracker.gov.ie/
It can alert you if someone you were in close proximity to over the last 14 days tested positive for Covid-19.
Within two metres of you for a period of 15 minutes or more.
Any modern iPhone or Android smartphone. There are some very old smartphones, typically over six year old, that it won’t work on. For example, it won’t work on an iPhone 6 or iPhone 5. It also won’t work on ‘feature’ phones like old Nokias.
The app uses the phone to send out Bluetooth signals, which are acknowledged by other phones (which have the app) and stored for two weeks. If you test positive for Covid-19, you can then kick off a contact tracing process. As part of that process, the contact tracing person you’re dealing with will ask whether you’ll allow your phone’s signal bank to alert others you’ve been in close proximity to. If you agree, you get a code, you enter it and then other phones with the app, which have been in close proximity to you over the last 14 days, will get an alert to say they were in close contact with someone who now has Covid-19.
Then it’s up to them to go get a test.
No. You may want to separately engage with the HSE as part of a more manual contact-tracing process, but the app won’t be unveiling you.
Everyone swears it is so. Indeed, this has been one of the big delaying factors; the first version of the app was ditched for this reason. The new version is built on technology from Apple and Google that doesn’t let the government or the HSE identify the user. For example, the app is disabled from collecting any location data. You have to give it permission to do anything and you can withdraw that permission at several stages.
Apple and Google swear blind that this will not happen. Apple, in particular, stakes a lot of its reputation on not collecting ad information. The rest of your phone is way more likely to be collecting data on you than this app. There is one small wrinkle, though. On Android phones, you have to have your phone’s ‘location’ setting on for the Bluetooth to work. This doesn’t mean the app will collect location data. But it does mean that you now have to go through every other app on your phone to make sure that location data permissions are individually switched off, which is a pain and which many people won’t do.
A little bit, yes. Apple and Google have been at pains to say that they’ve tried to minimise this effect. But the fact is that it will be working away in the background non-stop, even when your phone is locked.
No. It’s totally voluntary. Although there are some questions about whether private companies’ HR departments might ask, or even require, employees to download it as a precautionary measure.
TCD experts say it’s not flawless at making connections, especially in shops and buses. On the other hand, if you do get an alert warning that someone recently, it’s very likely that you were in proximity at some point to a person with Covid-19.
Somewhere between 25pc and 60pc, according to experts. As of the time of writing, it has been downloaded 250,000 times.
If lots of people download it, it probably will. By ‘lots’, experts generally say it needs a minimum of around 20pc adoption to have any positive impact at all. One Oxford professor suggested it would need 60pc takeup to be really effective. For a variety of reasons, it looks unlikely to reach this level of adoption.
Some people won’t bother. Others aren’t allowed (if they’re under 16) or their phones are too old. Some might worry about the impact on battery life. And there remain a small number who say they’re still opposed to downloading it for privacy reasons, despite assurances. Those all add up.
Yes. It will also work with other European apps that are based on the same Apple-Google app technology, such as Germany.