Dutch divided on coronavirus tracking app

The Netherlands population is almost evenly divided on the use of an app to track who was in touch with someone diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to a survey by public health institute RIVM and Dutch universities among a representative group of 926 Dutch. A third of respondents said they'd install the app without further ado, a third said they are uncertain, and a third said definitely not. 

The researchers called the even division striking. "We  have never seen such major contradictions," they said in their report. Supporters think the app is a good idea, with one saying: "Better than nothing at all. You want to know where you stand." Opponents are concerned about privacy. "I don't want an app like that on my phone, I feel like it would interfere with my freedom."

The purpose of the app is to notify users when they had contact with someone who has the coronavirus, so that they can be alert to symptoms. The more people install the app, the more effective it will be. Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health previously said that at least 60 percent of the population will have to use the app for good efficiency. The app is currently still being developed. In the plans, the app makes use of location data. The owner of the phone can report via the app that they are infected, which requires a confirmation code from the GGD. 

The undecided group of respondents has many questions. For example, will the app tell where the contact took place, how long they had contact and from what distance? And will the app only notify them after the GGD tested the person in question, or immediately after te person shows symptoms? Some in this group will only install the app if the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, others only when it is proven that the app is effective.

The government now has an important decision to make, researcher Niek Mouter said to NOS. "Do you want to move quickly for the small group that already wants such an app, or do you want to connect a larger group to your app?" Before making this decision, the government will have to look into how bad it will be if less than 60 percent of Dutch install the app and how low can that proportion drop before the app is useless, he said. 

In a response, the Ministry of Public Health said that it hopes that most Dutch people will use the app, according to NOS. The Ministry recognizes that "trust is crucial in this" and therefore "privacy is central" and the use of the app is not mandatory. According to the Ministry, it got the 60 percent threshold from a study by Oxford University. And that same study says that a lower number of users is also expected to decrease infections and the number of deaths. 

The survey was conducted by the RIVM, TU Delft, VU University, and Maastricht University.