The coronavirus has had a huge impact on our society, that's why it is crucial that society can manage the spread of the virus while minimising the broader impact of measures put in place to contain it. To help contain the virus, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (Rijksoverheid) just launched the CoronaMelder app, which locally tracks contact exposures.
We reached out Neil Smyth, CTO of PrivateTracer and Digital Technical Director / Blockchain Focus Area Manager of YES!Delft, to find out more about the app and discover how CoronaMelder app can help us trace and defeat COVID-19. And if you live in the Netherlands, be sure to download CoronaMelder app here.
Hi Neil, can you tell us about the beginning of this adventure? Where, how and when was the CoronaMelder project born?
YES!Delft got involved in the contact tracing discussion after a conversation with Salim Hadri from Milvum, who via their Meld&Vermoeden startup are located in our Digital Hub. This lead to a public-private partnership open source initiative called PrivateTracer - which had 20+ partners, including existing Y!D partners such as Den Haag Gemeente & Odyssey as well as several startups from our ecosystem such as Cybermundus and Circularise. It was an intense and really enjoyable collaboration - resulting in an end-end solution in a matter of weeks. YES!Delfts involvement was in multiple ways - primarily in leading the technical delivery (~CTO role) but also in community building (connecting startups, ecosystem players).
Eventually Min VWS decided to build their own solution - but significant parts of PrivateTracer as well as some key people / knowledge handover helped bootstrap CoronaMelder.
After Min VWS decided to build their own solution, PrivateTracer remained engaged to ensure as much knowledge handover as possible and to help where we could to make it a success. It is a major step that the dutch government is building such a solution in an open source way - and while there are learnings from the process it is hopefully an example that will be repeated. Our key goal in establishing PrivateTracer was to ensure that privacy was preserved in whatever solution was deployed - and that has been achieved.
Tell us more about how the app works: what technology does the app use? How much battery resources are used by the app? How is user privacy guaranteed?
CoronaMelder is based on top of the Google-Apple Exposure Notification system - which via cryptographic techniques ensures that random codes are generated and broadcast as identifiers. These codes cannot be linked to a person nor correlated - but if a person is later confirmed as having the virus then, within the context of the existing patient-doctor privacy guarantees, their "transient identifiers" are marked in a special way and the phones of other users can check if they have seen any of these transient identifiers and thus have been exposed.