COVID-19 vs. EU: One app to rule them all

Weeks, almost months late(r) there might be a joint effort to track the new coronavirus across European countries with one single app.

Welcome to the FWIW newsletter about tech, media & audio written by David Tvrdon. 🌐 Read it online and 👉 be sure to subscribe, if you were forwarded this newsletter.

In this edition

🇪🇺 A common EU approach in response to the coronavirus pandemic is on the way

🧑‍🎓 MOOCs everywhere & why is this the right time to pick up new skills

💬 Other news: Livestreaming video is on the rise; internet use around the world in 8 charts; the (virtual) events industry & some good news

One app to rule them all? We shall see

📷 originally by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash, modified by me

Since the beginning of the current crisis within Europe, there have been two main concerns - the EU is not being helpful enough & not giving directives to countries, and the second being that any user tracking within the Union must uphold user privacy and the rules the EU has set for itself.

To address the first issue, part of the critique is pure propaganda from the east saying Russia and China are helping European countries much more, while the EU is standing by. There have been plenty debunks of this hoax. And ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) has warned member states at the end of February to prepare for a pandemic.

As for tracking, governments across the continent have taken matters into their own hands passing local laws or directives trying to cope with the spreading of the coronavirus.

Finally, there seems to be a united effort.

First, at the beginning of April, European researchers reported that they have found a way to use tracking via mobile phones of the novel coronavirus and keeping up the high standards on privacy within the EU.

The result was PEPP-PT (Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing).

How does it work? explains:

The App analyzes Bluetooth signals between mobile phones to detect users who are close enough to infect each other. That data will be temporarily stored on the phones. If users later test positive for the virus, the app alerts anyone who has been around them in preceding days. Unlike more invasive surveillance technology being used to track infections in parts of the world with lower standards of data privacy, the new European software embeds safeguards to encrypt data and anonymize personal information, according to some of the organizations involved, which include the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne. This makes it safe from abuse by third parties, including governments, and ensures data protection standards won’t suffer irreparable damage as Europe tackles the pandemic.

The developers behind the code say that downloading the app will be voluntary and the code makes it virtually impossible to reveal the identity of the people using the devices: Two phones will never exchange data directly, and the users' aliases are changed frequently.

A common Union toolbox to combat the COVID-19 crisis

On Wednesday, April 8th, the European Commission has adopted ‘Recommendation to support exit strategies through mobile data and apps’. Here is what is going to happen per the recommendation:

Member States, together with the Commission, shall develop a toolbox towards a pan-European approach for mobile applications in association with the European Data Protection Board by 15 April 2020. To support Member States, the Commission will provide guidance including on data protection and privacy implications. Member States should report on the actions they have taken by 31 May 2020, and make the measures accessible to other Member States and the Commission for peer review. 

Conclusion: What to expect next?

Since the crisis broke out in Europe, every country has adopted different measures.

For example, Poland has made an app — which involves people uploading selfies when prompted so that officials can pinpoint their exact locations — mandatory for anyone potentially infected with the coronavirus. Though the terms and conditions for the app state that all the data will stay with the government for six years. Not great.

So far, we don’t know whether the EU Commission will stand behind the PEPP-PT app or not, though it would be in line with getting each country on the same page and extracting data for modeling and predicting the evolution of the virus.

We should know more within a week.

But even with a common app across the EU, there is the question of how to get people to install it. And, how quickly can this be done throughout the continent. Some researches say that an app is not a cure and it’s just one piece in the grand scheme of things that needs to happen to bring back a normal life.

In other news

🧑‍🎓 MOOCs (massive open online courses) might be one of the winners. Protocol reported, that Coursera had 4.8 million enrollments in March and thousands of Coursera for Campus programs launched. Coursera has seen spikes in life sciences, personal development and others. For example, The Science of Well-Being course has been viewed by 32 million people in the last 30 days. Another popular one is the free course on COVID-19 by the Imperial College of London. Other learning platforms have similar responses: edX’s response to COVID-19, Udemy Free Resource Center & FutureLearn has tips on their blog. [Protocol]

  • Psychologists say one of the things you should do in isolation is to pick up a hobby or learn new skills (other advice). As I hinted on in my last newsletter, we are probably going to enter a new world, many businesses and jobs will go away and new skills can save your living in a few months. So, if you have been sidetracking that coding bootcamp, digital marketing course or the language class now is the perfect time to start working on it. Especially when there are so many free and great online learning resources.

  • Something related from my bookmarks: Five Online Courses for Media Managers

📈 Livestreaming is on the rise, again. Tubular Labs, a social-video analytics firm, put together a 22-page report on livestreaming behavior during March. Livestream viewership is way up, real-time news, music, gaming, and animal are particularly popular. By the numbers:

  • watching livestreams on YouTube rose 19% between March 12 and 25

  • views of live videos on Facebook also jumped 37%

  • watch time for livestreams on Twitch rose 16%

Musicians have been performing virtual concerts in recent weeks to entertain fans and some even set up Patreon accounts to make up for lost revenue from concerts. As a result, music is becoming a popular category for livestream audiences. [Business Insider]

📊 8 charts on internet use around the world as countries grapple with COVID-19. Pew Research put together an analysis that focuses on the internet, social media and mobile phone use in 34 countries. There are some big differences among countries, especially when you compare younger and older people. Whether people use the internet varies widely by the level of education in each of the surveyed countries.

There are wide gaps in social media use between the youngest and oldest age groups. Only in seven countries surveyed do a majority of people 50 and older report using social media.

[Check out the rest of the charts: Pew Research Center]

🎤 Events will never be the same again. It was bad. As of February events have been postponed or canceled, some even opted for a complete event business shuttering. With the rise of videoconferencing you would think most organizers will choose to do the online version, though as Google found out with its I/O conference, you still have to have a large in-person team in the background running and planning things. So it is not enough to just switch to Zoom, Webex, Skype or Hangouts. And here comes in Hopin, an all-in-one live online events platform, a startup based in London that raised a €6 million seed round this February. Dell, NBC, Google, Facebook, Wall Street Journal, CEX, Product Hunt and other companies are currently on the waiting list for the platform. []

Hopin is not, of course, the only online event platform out there. Its competitors include Run the World, an Andreessen Horowitz-backed, US-based startup, which raised $4.3m in February and takes 25% of ticket sales, and HeySummit, an Edinburgh-headquartered but remote-first team, which charges from $29 per month with a 5% cut on ticket sales.

😊 Some good news. Actor and filmmaker John Krasinski has a new show, of sorts. He decided to highlight some good news on a DIY web show. It’s kind of quirky, but also funny and simply pure joy. Here is the first episode.

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