The first coronavirus digital contact-tracing app using OS updates from Google and Apple is now in a large-scale pilot test. Dubbed as SwissCovid, the app is based on the decentralized protocol, where operations that have data privacy implications are not stored or conducted through a centralized server, but on the phone of individual users. Employees at EPFL, ETH Zurich, the Swiss Army, and select hospitals and cantonal administrations can now download the app for tracing contacts at risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Once downloaded and installed, the app signals to a user that he or she has been in prolonged contact with one or more people who subsequently tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. That not only helps the user take adequate precautions and test for the virus, but also checks the further spread of the disease.

The test, which was launched in late May, will clear the way for a roll out of the app to the public later this month after deliberations in the Swiss Parliament. However, recent research has indicated that 70% of Swiss residents approve the scheme. Professor Edouard Bugnion, Vice-President for Information Systems at EPFL and a key participant in the discussions with Google and Apple to have them adopt the “DP3T” protocol, said, “This is the first time that the operating system updates from Google and Apple enable its deployment and testing on such a large scale.” As observed by project manager Alfredo Sanchez, the Swiss testers now share a great responsibility because their usage could determine the widescale use of SwissCovid.

According to a report, 22 public health agencies have requested the API, while many countries might also switch to the Apple-Google framework because it offers “privacy by design,” minimizing the collection and sharing of information. In this context, Professor Carmela Troncoso, head of the Security & Privacy Engineering Laboratory at EPFL, said, “Our goal is to offer a solution that can be adopted in Europe and around the world…. There are millions of users and we owe it to them to be transparent.”

Although a pilot, the ongoing test phase is driven by real data. Eligible testers can opt to register for the pilot program, and any notification they receive through the app is not simulated. Therefore, they would be expected to take the advised precautions to check the spread of COVID-19.