Wednesday, August 5, 2020

How the EU plans to use cell phone tracking against the corona virus

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The digital networks in Europe have become the survival line in times of the corona pandemic. EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton recently brought together the most important decision-makers in the industry for an interview. Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges was there. But Vodafone boss Nick Read, Telefónica chairman José María Álvarez-Pallete López and six other top managers in the industry.

Breton was not only concerned with making the importance of the industry clear in this time of crisis. He presented a far-reaching plan. The former IT manager wants to get location data from the customers of the companies so that the movements can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures to contain the corona pandemic.

Internet platforms like Facebook should also provide information, said Breton last week – he calls CEO Mark Zuckerberg almost every day. The data would be fed into computer models of the EU research institute JRC in order to be able to better predict the spread of the virus in the individual EU countries.

This is important in order to bring sufficient medical protective equipment and ventilation equipment there in good time. “The good news is: I now have the right instruments,” said Breton.

According to a commission spokesman, the details of the project have not yet been clarified. On Friday, however, he emphasized that it was aggregated and anonymized movement data that could not be traced back to individual people. The aim is to win one provider per country for the initiative in order to get a meaningful sample. The data would only be stored for as long as the current crisis lasted.

Movement profiles should be compared

In Germany, comparable data is already being used to track whether citizens comply with government regulations and really spend more time in their apartments and houses. Brussels could use the data in a similar way. It is planned to compare the movement profiles at night and during the day, for example.

The telephone switch with Breton was co-organized by the industry association GSMA. GSMA director Mats Granryd said the member companies are doing everything they can to help fight the virus.

“We will work with the EU Commission, national regulators and international organizations to explore solutions based on big data or artificial intelligence in the fight against the pandemic.” Data protection and ethical principles would be observed.

In a letter to the Commission, European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski urged the Commission to clearly define what data it had requested. In addition, the authority should inform the public transparently “to avoid possible misunderstandings”.

In some countries such as Germany, network operators have been disclosing their customers’ anonymized movement data to authorities for several days or weeks. Telekom shared data with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in several tranches. The facility wants to track whether people in Germany stick to the contact blocks and really spend more time at home.

The EU’s approach could be similar. A Telekom spokeswoman said: “European mobile operators should also make such anonymized mass data available to the EU Commission at their request.”

First, Telekom provided the Commission with a description of the data it had provided to the RKI. “It is clear that we support the German and European health authorities within the framework of data protection law,” said the Dax group.

The plans in Germany are already going on

The previous mass data have not yet gone far enough for the President of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler. They are often only accurate to around 500 meters. In this way, population movements can be modeled, but individual contagion routes cannot be traced.

At the moment, officials from the authorities have to interview affected patients after a positive test for the coronavirus. There it was recorded which people they had had intensive contact with during the past two weeks and could have been infected with the virus as a result. “This is a process that takes time,” said Wieler.

An application would be desirable that could record which people would have been in close proximity to the infected person for long periods of time. This could possibly be used to pinpoint other infected people. “This is technically possible, and it is also possible under data protection law. I am very optimistic that we will succeed. ”

A team of 25 people from twelve different institutions had been working on the development of a corresponding solution for three weeks. “I am convinced that we will soon have a convincing concept,” said Wieler.

The EU Commission is pursuing the plans in Germany. According to Handelsblatt information, there is currently no plan to develop an application for the entire European Union.

More: Corona app: The Robert Koch Institute is working on an app that captures people the users have encountered. Smartphones should be scanned and stored nearby.

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