A European initiative led by researchers and scientists from eight countries unveiled plans to develop smartphone technology capable of tracking people who had been in contact with individuals infected with Covid-19 (coronavirus).

The Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) organisation detailed its plans yesterday (1 April), explaining it was working on a mechanism for contact tracing by using radio signals between devices, for example via Bluetooth.

PEPP-PT said the move would let national authorities release their own apps which could use its technology to tackle the pandemic by anonymous “proximity-tracing”, which it deemed the appropriate method “to resuming a normal life, opening our borders, and restarting the economy”.

The initiative pledged to keep privacy at its core, as anything it provided would be “based on voluntary participation, provides anonymity, does not use personal data nor geolocation information, operates in full compliance with GDPR, and has been certified and tested by security professionals”.

​PEPP-PT will be incorporated as a non-profit organisation based in Switzerland. It set up a partner management team to assist the more than 130 members which had signed up by 31 March, including scientists, research experts and companies. Vodafone Group has also backed the initiative.

The move follows a similar approach by Singapore, which deployed a system using Bluetooth handshakes between smartphones to provide details of potential contact with people who tested positive for the virus.