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News · 10 juli 2020

“Secure corona apps that work? It is possible!”

The discussion about the lack of privacy in the so-called corona apps has flared up recently. I myself am definitely not in favour of obliging people to download an app, especially when personal data is requested. But using apps and other digital tools does not necessarily mean giving up your anonymity.

Privacy and accuracy

I think that an app that measures whether you’ve been in contact with someone with corona is not going to work in the Netherlands. Making an app mandatory doesn’t fit in with our values and legislation. But if the use of an app is optional, you can’t measure accurately enough who has and hasn’t been in contact with an infected person.

It works in a similar way as vaccination. High vaccination coverage contributes to group immunity. So if only part of the population has a corona app (low coverage), the app offers little protection because the information is far from complete. Besides, you can’t expect people to always have their phone with them, download the app and release personal data. It is true that you will gain more insight into the spread of the virus, but it is not practically feasible in the Netherlands and there is too little support. Look at the recent demonstrations against the government’s measures.

But privacy is not the only issue when it comes to corona apps. They really have to work and not just provide false security. That’s not always the case. You can install an app to measure if you are within 1.5 metres of someone else, but smartphones are usually not that accurate. Apps such as Google Maps may give that impression, but GPS is always a few metres inaccurate.

Exact and anonymous

Fortunately, there are also digital tools that measure exactly and do not compromise your privacy. It is possible to measure distances accurately with a Bluetooth smartcard. For example, it can be attached to the access pass for the office, and vibrates or sets off an alarm if you stand too close to someone. But also on the construction site, where it is often difficult to keep your distance, a smartcard can be a solution.

At Hyrde, we are also developing an app to monitor office occupancy. Once the workstations and meeting rooms have been adapted to the current measures, we will put a sticker with a QR code on the available desks. When you scan this code, it immediately becomes clear whether the maximum capacity in the building or room has been reached. If this is the case, the location manager will be notified. You can also check in the app from home to see if the limit has already been reached, and if it’s still wise to come to the office.

Sustainable tools

I think it is important that the tools we are developing now are sustainable, and remain useful even after the corona crisis. In time, the app that measures the occupancy rate can be used to book rooms, shared cars and meals. And you can add keyboard shortcuts to a smartcard, allowing you to connect to emergency services at the touch of a button, for example. This also makes it possible to work safely alone on a construction site, where this now absolutely has to be done in pairs.

So there are plenty of useful tools, but above all we have to use our common sense and take responsibility. Let’s hope that in time we can return to our old familiar society. But as long as we’re faced with the 1.5-metre society, let’s use smart technology that, for example, alerts us if we are about to shake someone’s hands inadvertently!

Jaap Hulshoff is Director of Operations at Hyrde. Do you have any questions or suggestions for Jaap? Feel free to contact him: jaap@hyrde.io.