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Analyzing the Essential Attributes of Nationally Issued COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps: Open-Source Intelligence Approach and Content Analysis

  • Background: Contact tracing apps are potentially useful tools for supporting national COVID-19 containment strategies. Various national apps with different technical design features have been commissioned and issued by governments worldwide. Objective: Our goal was to develop and propose an item set that was suitable for describing and monitoring nationally issued COVID-19 contact tracing apps. This item set could provide a framework for describing the key technical features of such apps and monitoring their use based on widely available information. Methods: We used an open-source intelligence approach (OSINT) to access a multitude of publicly available sources and collect data and information regarding the development and use of contact tracing apps in different countries over several months (from June 2020 to January 2021). The collected documents were then iteratively analyzed via content analysis methods. During this process, an initial set of subject areas were refined into categories for evaluation (ie, coherent topics), which were then examined for individual features. These features were paraphrased as items in the form of questions and applied to information materials from a sample of countries (ie, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom [England and Wales]). This sample was purposefully selected; our intention was to include the apps of different countries from around the world and to propose a valid item set that can be relatively easily applied by using an OSINT approach. Results: Our OSINT approach and subsequent analysis of the collected documents resulted in the definition of the following five main categories and associated subcategories: (1) background information (open-source code, public information, and collaborators); (2) purpose and workflow (secondary data use and warning process design); (3) technical information (protocol, tracing technology, exposure notification system, and interoperability); (4) privacy protection (the entity of trust and anonymity); and (5) availability and use (release date and the number of downloads). Based on this structure, a set of items that constituted the evaluation framework were specified. The application of these items to the 10 selected countries revealed differences, especially with regard to the centralization of the entity of trust and the overall transparency of the apps’ technical makeup. Conclusions: We provide a set of criteria for monitoring and evaluating COVID-19 tracing apps that can be easily applied to publicly issued information. The application of these criteria might help governments to identify design features that promote the successful, widespread adoption of COVID-19 tracing apps among target populations and across national boundaries.

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Author:Jan-Patrick WeißORCiD, Moritz EsdarORCiD, Ursula Hertha HübnerORCiD
Title (English):Analyzing the Essential Attributes of Nationally Issued COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps: Open-Source Intelligence Approach and Content Analysis
Parent Title (German):JMIR Mhealth Uhealth
Document Type:Article
Year of Completion:2021
Release Date:2021/05/03
Tag:COVID-19; contact tracing apps; privacy; protocols
Page Number:16
Open Access
Faculties:Fakultät WiSo
DDC classes:000 Allgemeines, Informatik, Informationswissenschaft / 000 Allgemeines, Wissenschaft
Review Status:Akzeptierte Fassung
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY - Namensnennung 4.0 International