The COVID Radar infection tracking app was not what was expected. Unless you expected it to be a complete failure, and almost six months after its launch it has only managed to report less than 2% of cases.
Hopes that had been placed on the technology have been dashed, although some wonder if we have not failed and excuse the technical system that should initially detect people infected with the coronavirus.
COVID Radar was born amid a lot of controversy – many of them questioned the security and privacy it offered to its users – and now it could die the same. But why did it not work?
The numbers don’t deceive
While Europe is still immersed in the third wave of people infected with COVID-19, which since March has already recorded more than 2.7 million cases in our country, the COVID Radar application has failed to identify any only a few.
It should be remembered that the app was not made public until last September, and since then the diagnosed infections have been around 2.27 million. But that, among these, the application has notified only 42,000, it is still very little.
From the start, the government made it clear that for this tracking system to work properly, at least 20% of Spaniards had to download the app to their mobile device.
It was only 6.8 million, and it’s less than 15%. It is not known, however, whether that number equates to 6.8 million individual people or whether some have installed the app on more than one device.
We also cannot determine if everyone has kept Bluetooth enabled on their mobile or Tablet, essential for COVID Radar to work properly and identify if it comes into contact with an infected person.
These download figures are slightly lower than in other European countries. According to the Pickaso firm, until January 15, 21.56 million people downloaded Corona-Warn in Germany, while in the UK 13.6 million Britons have installed NHS Covid-19.
Italy and France had a similar reception from their respective applications: Immuni and TousAntiCovid, with some 9 million downloads. Of course, in all of them the app was more popular among Android users, although they are more popular than those using iOS.
Controversy from the start
The controversy began long before the application itself. After several internal discrepancies, it was decided to use application programming developed by Google and Apple and code designed by the Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence (SEDIA).
As has been said before, this API raised serious doubts about what use the two tech giants could make of user personal and location data, but from the start it was clear that neither they wouldn’t have access to it.
While it has been insisted that only health authorities can use this information, it is clear that this minimum doubt has dismissed many people who take their digital privacy very seriously.
Beyond that, the project has also been very opaque from the start from a technological point of view. At no time, for example, has the government released the results of the pilot test, carried out in La Gomera in July.
The fact that the app’s code wasn’t public from the start also didn’t help the app to run smoothly, as it prevented the developer community from being able to analyze it and come up with improvements.
It was only published once and was launched in all Autonomous Communities and when the government had already signed a second contract with Indra for the maintenance of the Software
Lack of communication
Communication has also been lacking, and this may have harmed the tracking app project even more than the lack of transparency in its technology. If the citizen does not have enough information, he will not use the COVID radar.
“They are not enough”, admitted Pedro Sánchez, referring to the number of users of the application, and the campaign that the government has carried out has not been sufficient, as has been done in other countries. like the UK.
In this sense, the criticisms went in several directions: the application arrived late and there was a lack of promotion from the authorities, the Autonomous Communities were not sufficiently involved and the citizens did not not demonstrated a real commitment.
It is hard to think that the problem is that the public did not understand how it works, since it is enough to download it, to activate bluetooth, to wait to receive a notification in case of coming into contact with a infected person or to communicate if you have been. diagnosed with the disease with a code you can ask the doctor for.
This is part of the problem: there isn’t enough code that could have helped slow the spread of the virus. Communities have requested just over 471,000, despite nearly 2.3 million people infected in the past five months.
What can we do now?
Despite the failure, several experts prefer to be careful and do not exclude that this system may still be effective. According to them, there is not enough data to determine this and that the whole process should be analyzed more deeply to find its weak points and correct them.
The magazine Nature recently published a report in which the potential of the COVID Radar is investigated based on data extracted from its testing phase in La Gomera and concludes that “the technology is working”, but that it requires “appropriate communication campaigns”.
What is clear is that a lot needs to change for the app to fulfill its purpose and really help stop cases: the government needs to campaign more, the Autonomous Communities need to offer more codes, and the citizens need to commit to using it.