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A screenshot shows an app launched by Germany's public health authority in partnership with health-tech startup Thryve to help monitor the spread the coronavirus.

STAFF/Reuters

The European Union is drawing up common rules for using mobile apps to track the spread of the coronavirus, aiming to make better use of the technology and address privacy concerns.

The co-ordinated strategy comes after several EU countries have rolled out a variety of apps, triggering criticism from some data privacy activists who worry mass data collection could become permanent if not tightly controlled.

European Commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, said a joint move to harness virus-fighting technology offered an efficient solution.

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“I fully support a European approach for the use of mobile applications and mobile data in response to the coronavirus pandemic in line with our fundamental rights. We will ensure this approach is transparent, proportional and based on people’s trust,” she said.

The Commission said a fragmented and unco-ordinated approach hampered the effectiveness of measures to tackle the pandemic and also caused serious harm to the region’s single market and to fundamental rights and freedoms.

Describing it as a tool box, the EU executive said the pan-European approach would include a common scheme for using anonymous, aggregated data to trace people who come into contact with those infected and to monitor those under quarantine.

There will be a methodology to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the mobile apps, their interoperability and cross-border implications, and whether they comply with security, privacy and data protection rules.

To assuage privacy concerns, there will be a strict limit on the processing of personal data, which will be destroyed when the virus is under control, the Commission said.

EU countries will work with the Commission and the European Data Protection Board to develop the principles by April 15. The European Data Protection Supervisor called on Monday for a pan-European mobile app.

Telecoms lobby groups ETNO and GSMA welcomed the pan-European approach. Some of their members have already agreed to share mobile phone location data with the Commission.

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