Covid “StayAway” app to be rolled out in August. Registration voluntary.

Today’s Council of Ministers has approved the rolling out of a ‘contact-tracing’ smartphone App to start functioning ‘at some point in August’.

A pilot-scheme started today, and will run for the next couple of weeks while legal and other technicalities ‘run their course’.

Announcing the news, minister for the presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva stressed DGS health authorities will be responsible for the ‘treatment of personal data’ and that adherence to the App is entirely voluntary.

She said the App “guarantees privacy”, respects data protection legislation and will only ‘register close contact (with anyone infected with Covid-19) of more than 15 minutes’.

Developed by INES TEC, the Institute of Systems Engineering, Computers, Science and Technology, together with the Porto School of Public Health, the App will run via low-energy Bluetooth radio signals and be able to ‘rapidly and anonymously’ run through users’ last 14 days to see if they shared space with any infected person. The idea being that if they had, they would be contacted, tested and ordered to stay at home for the next 14 days, irrespective of how they felt physically.

There has been a lot of doubts about these kind of Apps. Even the founders of Bluetooth are sceptical the technology can really ‘work’ given that signals can be absorbed by objects that get in the way – anything from trees to even dogs and cats.

And then there’s the issue of them being voluntary: if people don’t download them, don’t have smartphones or ‘disconnect’ their Bluetooth facilities, the system won’t trace them.

No doubt the government’s plan to get round these obstacles will become clear over the next two weeks.