Russia Developing a Mobile Phone App to Track Coronavirus Patients

It seems Moscow is rolling out a mobile phone app to track citizens who have been diagnosed with coronavirus in an effort to monitor whether they adhere to orders to stay at home.

According to government officials, the app is expected to be launch very soon. The move coincides with a larger initiative among European health institutions to create a network of virus-tracking applications that communicate with each other. The UK and Germany are also supposed to be working on similar solutions.

Russia's tracking app will at first be limited to citizens who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 but have been discharged from the hospital. The app will request access to user calls, camera, location, network information, storage, and other information. The apps will be available for both iOS and Androi
Last February, China launched a similar app, which allowed people to check whether they had been in close contact with people with coronavirus. Subsequent reports indicated that the app was sharing user data with the local police. As with China, security experts have expressed concern that Russia may abuse the app to spy on millions of citizens.

According to Tom Fisher, a senior researcher at Privacy International, “We will be concerned about the possibility of using this application to track the movements of millions of people, and also proving to be a tool for social control." For citizens to lose faith in the health authorities and government at this time, by being subjected to unnecessary and intrusive surveillance, will only damage the efforts to combat this virus. In the UK, NHSX which has been working on something similar has been in contact with those managing the project but has not yet committed to interoperability.

Also, the local government IT chief, Edward Lysenko said the app is now available in Google Play and Apple iOS stores. He said those without a Smartphone could borrow one with the pre-installed software for a fortnight.

Many countries are working on such apps that will allow users to enter a unique code if they are infected with the virus. The app will then send an alert to other people who recently come into close contact with the victim, and advise them to go to quarantine or take other preventive measures. By doing this, others who are not affected might be released from lockdown.

According to the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, the initiative aims to deliver a “multi-country exchange mechanism”. So that if someone is traveling from one European country to another, they can still receive an alert, even if they use a different app to locals.

About 90% of the work has already been done and the technology should be ready for launch very soon, said Chris Boss, one of the project coordinators. According to Boss, the first apps created on this will be available before April 15 or April 19, something like that. We are not talking about months; we are talking about a very short time.

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