Poland rolls out privacy-secure coronavirus tracking app

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has released its latest version of a smartphone application to help to track coronavirus outbreaks, which has been adapted to address concerns about privacy, the country’s digital minister said on Tuesday.

Dozens of countries have launched or plan contact tracing apps using either Bluetooth or location-tracking technology to notify people quickly of possible coronavirus exposure. But the first generation of contact tracing apps rushed out in March and April raised privacy alarms.

Poland’s latest app comes after the country lifted some restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and after a few days of record high new coronavirus cases mainly due to the spread among miners.

The initial version of Poland’s ProteGO Safe app used Bluetooth technology to log connections between smartphones on a device. A user who got sick would change his status in the application anonymously and it would send data about his contacts within the previous two weeks to an external server to inform other users about possible risk.

But doubts over privacy security convinced Poland to join Switzerland, Latvia and Italy that opted for Bluetooth short-range radio for their apps, based on technology from Apple AAPL.O and Google GOOGL.O that securely logs exchanges on the smartphones of people who have been near each other.

“We paid a lot of attention to ... secure privacy issues,” Poland’s digital minister Marek Zagorski told a videoconference.

“The application does not collect, process or transfer any data outside, except for the anonymous keys that are used to activate the notification module. It is completely anonymous.”

Zagorski said the aim was to make the application interoperable with other ones in Europe and that at least 30-40% of smartphone users needed to use the app to make it work effectively.

“So we are talking here not about thousands but about millions of users in Poland and this is our goal,” the minister said. “We hope that we will be able to persuade Poles to install this application in ... a dozen or so weeks so that ... we are better prepared for the second wave (of coronavirus).”

Poland has so far confirmed 27,365 coronavirus infections, while 1,172 people have died.

Reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Jane Merriman