Coronavirus app tested in Twente region next month

Early next month, the government will test its coronavirus notification app among a few hundred users in the Twente region, Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health wrote in a letter to parliament. The goal of the test is to see whether the app is understandable and easy to use, and what improvements need to be made.

The test will be done in collaboration with GGD Twente and various other organizations in the region. Participants will be briefed on how the test will work and where to download and install the app. During the test, researchers will look at what issues arise, and how people respond if they get a (simulated) positive Covid-19 test or a notification that they had been in contact with someone who did. GGD Twente will also see how the app fits into its existing source and contact tracing. 

This is the first in a series of tests for the app. Once the test is over, test participants will uninstall the app and developers will work on improving it based on the findings.

The Ministry of Public Health will work with white hat hackers to test the apps security, cybersecurity expert Brenno de Winter told RTL Nieuws. The hackers will be recruited from within the government’s tech workers and cybersecurity firm NFIR. Bounties might also be available for hackers who find data leaks or security issues and report them.

The coronavirus app was developed with the help of the Tax Authority because of their technical infrastructure, and their history of rolling out apps to the public at a large scale, Ron Roozendaal, the head of IT at Ministry told RTL Nieuws.

"We must do everything in our power to prevent a second corona wave," De Jonge said. "The app can play an important role in this. It is great that the Twente region has made its technical expertise and abilities available to keep corona under control together."

The app uses Bluetooth technology to exchange unique and non-traceable numbers between phones that are in the vicinity of each other. If a person tests positive for Covid-19 and reports it on the app, the app notifies all the phones who had been near the person in question. This only works if both parties have the app on their phone. 

De Jonge previously said that in order for this app to work most effectively, about 60 percent of the Dutch population will have to actively use it. But a recent survey showed that only about a quarter of the population are willing to do so.