The Italian contact tracing application arrives in turn

L Cybersecurity

The Italian “Immuni” contact search application has finally been made available to citizens of the country on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Like other similar applications deployed in Europe, Immuni is supposed to help governments and healthcare establishments to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, by making it easier to monitor the spread of the contagion.

The app allows healthcare providers to send a notification to anyone who has been within two meters of an infected person for at least 15 minutes in the past 14 days. He then gives advice to at-risk users on what to do, from self-isolation to making an appointment with a doctor, and downloads the epidemiological data to a central server. The entire process, from installing the application to receiving the notification, was designed to be anonymous and voluntary.

500,000 downloads from day one

On Wednesday, Minister of Technological Innovation Paola Pisano announced to the Transport Commission that the application had been downloaded by a million people. The 500,000 downloads made in the first 24 hours of its release briefly made it the most downloaded free application in Italy.

The Italian Ministry of Technological Innovation explained that only arbitrary identifiers generated by the application are used. “No name or other identifying element can be used to trace the identity of people who have tested positive or those who are in contact with them,” he said. “Citizens can download Immuni for free and register on a voluntary basis as a tool to promote a safer environment during the recovery phase.”

While the app is already available for everyone in Italy, the notification system itself will only be implemented on Monday June 8. Initially, the tracing will be limited to the pilot regions of Liguria, Marche, Puglia and Abruzzo. If the results of the trial are positive, the system will be rolled out nationwide from mid-June.

Decentralized model

The software architecture follows a decentralized tracing model, consistent with the bluetooth-based framework that was recently introduced by Apple and Google for Android and iOS smartphones – so almost all of the data will remain on users’ devices. The choice was the result of intense debate between industry experts, academics, lawyers and members of the Italian government, which led to the abandonment of the centralized option, for reasons of protection of private life.

In its final version, Immuni will not collect any personal or location data, with the exception of the province of residence, which will be used to send personalized suggestions because health policies vary according to Italian regions.

The source code for the application was made public by the developer, software company Bending Spoons, who posted it on GitHub.

Overall positive reviews

So far, Immuni has received positive reviews, for its security from the developers who analyzed the code, and for its usability, based on initial comments from those who installed it.

However, the Italian data protection authority, which has given the green light for pilot tests in the four selected regions, has requested certain improvements. “Users should be informed that the system can generate exposure notifications that do not always reflect a real risk situation,” said the president of the authority, Antonello Soro. “They should also be able to temporarily deactivate the application via an easily accessible function on the main screen.

Although the product itself seems well designed and safe, the real test will be whether the Italians feel motivated to install it, given the relaxation of deconfinement measures.

Some technical problems surface

Despite generally positive reviews so far, some problems have surfaced. In particular, the inability of the app to work with the iPhone 6 or older models – it needs at least iOS 13.5. On Android, it needs at least Android 6 Marshmallow.

On Huawei smartphones, due to the inclusion of the company in the “Entity list” in the United States, the application works with devices marketed before May 16, 2019, because they have access to updates from Google Play . The application needs at least Google Play services 20.18.13. It does not work on new Huawei and Honor smartphones, such as the Mate 30 or the P40.

The developers are working to resolve these issues and will soon be releasing a dedicated version to download from Huawei’s application gallery.

There was also a brief controversy caused by certain icons in the app, which were deemed sexist. They showed a man with a laptop and a woman with a baby. Following the protests, the offensive icons were changed, and now the man appears with the baby and the woman with the computer.



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