Code for Ireland’s Covid Tracker app given to global public health project

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The code for Ireland’s Covid Tracker app has been published as part of an open source programme to help global public health authorities tackle the pandemic.

Ireland’s Health Service Executive has provided the code to the newly established Linux Foundation public health initiative which aims to use open source software to help public health authorities around the world combat Covid-19 and future epidemics.

Fran Thompson, chief information officer of the HSE, said: “We are pleased to contribute Covid Green, the open source code behind Ireland’s Covid Tracker app, to Linux Foundation Public Health.

“This app is a great demonstration of innovation within the Irish health sector combined with the IT capabilities of the Irish software industry. We’re immensely proud of the work we’ve undertaken in partnership with NearForm in responding to the pandemic.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with other public health authorities around the world via Linux Foundation Public Health to assist them in quickly replicating our approach while learning from their experiences.”

The move would allow countries around the world to build their own app based on Ireland’s Covid Tracker code. It also allows the Ireland’s development team to benefit from work undertaken by other countries to improve the code and effectiveness of the app.

The code has already been used to develop apps in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland, as well as other countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and states in the US.

The app, developed in partnership with software company NearForm, was downloaded one million times in the 48 hours following its launch on 7 July. Ireland’s minister for health, Stephen Donnelly, hailed a “huge achievement”.

The app has currently been downloaded about 1.3 million times, representing about 30% of people in Ireland.

A blogpost on NearForm’s website states: “Being open source, the solution intentionally does not aim to lock governments into something closed and proprietary. The aim is to enable governments to use the technology, and for their own teams to be able to develop, manage and support this contact tracing app.”

The app has not escaped expected concerns about data privacy. As with all apps concerns were raised about its efficacy and data collection purposes.

Prior to its launch the Irish Council for Civil Liberties graded it a C plus, adding more work needed to be done to ensure the app adheres to frameworks ensuring efficacy, transparency, legality and accountability.

The Covid Tracker app frontend code is currently available on GitHib, with the backend code expected to be published shortly.

The NHS contact-tracing app

NHSX announced in March that it was working on a contact-tracing app to help control the spread of the virus.

The organisation faced fierce criticism for its decision to develop a centralised system, differing from tech giants Apple and Google who teamed up to developed decentralised contact-tracing technology.

In June, after several revised roll-out dates, the government abandoned its model in favour of Apple and Google’s tech. At the time it had spent £11.8m developing the app.

No date for the national roll-out for the app has been confirmed, but ministers have suggested it is “not a priority” and may not be ready until the winter. You can read more about the NHS contact-tracing app timeline here.

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