Earlier, U.S. tech giants Apple and Alphabet’s Google announced their initiative to release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities.
Called 'contact-tracing', the tool is meant to help curb the spread of the novel 'COVID-19' coronavirus.
The two companies are offering their respective platforms for interoperability, leaving developers to do the rest. And here, Latvia leads the way by becoming one of the first countries to launch a smartphone app using the tool.
Early success of tracing apps in countries like Singapore by using the TraceTogether app has been patchy, mainly because usage of the app isn't as wide as expected, and also because Apple’s iPhone does not support Bluetooth's short-range radio as a proxy for measuring the risk of infection.
Latvia’s Apturi Covid (Stop Covid) app works by contrast, as it is based on the 'contact-tracing' tool launched by Apple and Google, whose iOS and Android operating systems run 99% of the world’s smartphones.
“The developers believe that reliance on this standard will ensure widespread adoption and also compatibility over time with contact tracing apps around the world that are also expected to adopt the same exposure notification framework,” the app’s developers said in a statement.
The app is initially meant to work within Baltic, which is group of the three sovereign states in Northern Europe on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
However, given by its approach, which aligns Latvia with a loose coalition of European countries - including Germany, Switzerland and Estonia, the team and the government are working to make it possible for the national app to ‘talk’ to each other across borders.
What this means, the app would work when users travel abroad.
Like mobile roaming, such interoperability would enable the app to work when a user travels abroad, giving governments greater confidence to ease travel restrictions without triggering a second wave of the pandemic.
The project is made possible by representatives of the Latvian ICT sector and science, including the country's largest mobile operator LMT, software development companies MAK IT, Autentica and Zippy Vision, software testing service TestDevLab, researchers from the University of Latvia, and startup community representative Andris K. Berzins.
Several state institutions have also been involved, including Latvian President Egils Levits, the State Chancellery, the Latvian Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the Riga-based NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, as well as medical experts and epidemiologists.
Developers of the app hope that initially, the app can be used by some 400,000 of Latvia's 1.9 million population, thus helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
Berzins said that the mobile app has been developed to comply with the European Union's personal data protection requirements.
What this means, all data is encrypted and stored directly on the device, and is not accessible to the phone owner or other users of the app, ensuring GDPR compliance. It also ensures that processing of the exposure notification protocol is decentralized, as it takes place on the device rather than in a server.
The stored data will only be put to use if a new COVID-19 case is detected, and that without disclosing the infected person's identity.
However, users should agree to get in touch with the Center for Disease Prevention and Control if they ever discovered themselves to have had contact with an infected person.
Unlike earlier initiative, like the one from Qatar, the Latvian coronavirus tracing app is not meant to be made mandatory.