Will Croatian STOP COVID-19 App Become Redundant?

Lauren Simmonds

As Novac/Bernard Ivezic writes on the 5th of September, 2020, installing the STOP COVID-19 application may no longer be necessary for the monitoring of who you have been in contact with via your mobile phone. That is how it will become across the Atlantic in the USA in the next few days, but, it seems that we’re still not quite there here in Croatia yet.

Apple and Google, which set a precedent and for the first time directly agreed on a technology collaboration through which they established iPhone and Android compatibility in the area of ​​contact tracking for coronavirus, have now gone one step further. They announced that they will enable official national health institutions to decide that the monitoring of coronavirus patient contacts can be done without the application.

However, with the latest version of iOS 13.7, which has recently started to be offered to users here in Croatia, Apple devices in Croatia don’t yet activate the possibility to receive information about contacts that are positive for coronavirus and inform your contacts about you being positive for that virus directly from the operating system. Data for Android hasn’t been obtained yet, as a new version of Google’s mobile operating system is yet to come.

The Ministry of Economy isn’t talking about this topic just yet and a response from the competent ministry on that issue is still awaited, because it is precisely the ministry that must make a decision on that. Well-informed sources of Jutarnji list point out that in the EU, and thus in Croatia, they don’t expect Apple and Google to bypass the national authorities and directly offer the possibility of changing cryptographic keys and exposure notifications.

”National applications as well as interoperability between EU countries will still be needed to publish ”infected” keys,” a source explained. This is just another confirmation that the decision on the application of the new possibility in Croatia will eventually have to be made by the Ministry of Health.

Apple and Google initially built the technical ability for mobile phones to record and encrypt contacts into their respective operating systems. However, everything else, starting with the conditions for determining whether the contact is relevant, provides information that the owner of the mobile phone was potentially in contact with a confirmed infected person and voluntarily sends information that the owner has been confirmed to be coronavirus positive, therefore, all this should have been made possible by citizens’ national health institutions through their own applications.

Unfortunately, countries around the world have proven to be out of line with this task. In Croatia, the national STOP COVID-19 mobile application appeared only at the peak of the tourist season, and not, as expected, before the season actually arrived. The STOP COVID-19 application became active in late July. But that’s still good. So far, only six states in the United States have developed their own COVID applications. It’s worth remembering there are a total of 57 federal states and territories in the United States. In addition, some of the applications aren’t even compatible with each other, although this was the main goal for Apple and Google.

In the European Union, the situation is only slightly better, but as seen in the example of the Croatian STOP COVID-19 application, the number of its users isn’t very large. The Android version of the app has been downloaded by more than 10,000 people so far, and the version for Apple ranks slightly better considering that the app is in the fifth place of being among the most sought after in the Health and Fitness category. For comparison, there are four million inhabitants in Croatia and almost all of them own mobile devices, and at least half of all smartphones are advanced enough to be able to install the STOP COVID-19 apps on them. Interestingly, those who use the app on both Google and Apple have given it some pretty good ratings. When it comes to Apple, 72 users left an average rating of 4.5, and on Google devices, 381 gave an average rating of 4.0.

Poor usage as well as a small number of countries that have created individual national apps have prompted Apple and Google to upgrade their OSes with the ability to do contact tracing without the app so it should come as no surprise if other changes follow.

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