COVID-19: Contact tracing mobile apps and data sharing practices in MENA 03 June 20

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) adopted technological solutions to halt the spread of COVID-19. Five MENA countries (Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia and UAE) have developed contact tracing apps to alert people who have been in recent contact with those who have tested positive for coronavirus.

During the pandemic, many telecoms operators around the world have announced that they are sharing specific information with government authorities. This includes the sharing of anonymised location data to enforce quarantine and to limit movement between specific areas. However, no such measures have been announced by a country in the MENA region.

Instead, many government authorities in MENA asked individuals to provide the data voluntarily, by installing mobile apps and to consent to sharing their location and contact information. Individuals were requested to volunteer to install COVID-19 related mobile apps in all the studied MENA countries, except in Bahrain and Qatar where installing the contact tracing app is mandatory in specific cases.

How Bluetooth contact tracing apps work

Contact tracing apps exchange anonymous unique identifiers using Bluetooth technology to collect information when users' devices come into proximity with other devices for a given duration, along with the geolocation information if the app also collects such data.

If the user confirms that he is infected with the virus, the app sends an alert to all other app users who have been in contact with that user. The app may also provide relevant information from health authorities on the steps to be taken, such as advising the user to get tested or to self-isolate, and which authorities to contact.

GPS information can additionally be used to perform specific functions, such as quarantine enforcement, mapping peoples' movement and concentration, and providing early warning to users to avoid infected areas.

Our latest “Cullen cheat sheet” shows how people get notified by the contact tracing apps in Bahrain, Qatar and UAE.

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