Phone with the Mapy.cz app showing a warning / via Mapy.cz

Seznam’s Mapy.cz app has coronavirus tracking feature, but not everyone is impressed

A new feature on Mapy.cz will track whether your movements overlapped with someone who tested positive for coronavirus
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A new feature on the travel app Maps.cz allows people to share their location, and this makes it possible for users to see if they might have come in contact with someone who tested positive for novel coronavirus In just a few, over 229,000 have taken advantage of the new function. But not everyone is a fan of the service, and it has has a mixed response on social media.

There is a nationwide quarantine in the Czech Republic. All people are supposed to stay home except for essential trips to stores, work and a few other exceptions. When people do go out, if they take their phone with them, they can participate in a project to see if they have come in contact with people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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“In the app, hundreds of thousands of volunteers have already given their consent to share their location … and there are thousands more every hour,” Mapy.cz head Martin Jeřábek said. Mapy.cz is made by Seznam.cz.

The company says using the map is a way of bringing the community together. “Coronavirus COVID-19 has created a wave of solidarity in the Czech Republic. In addition to sewing masks or volunteering in babysitting, you can also help by mobile. Just open Mapy.cz. Connect with people who share their location to stay safe. If you are not indifferent to the current situation, join the Mapy.cz community,” the Seznam.cz website states.

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Users need to download or update the Mapy.cz app, available for free on Android and iOs, and give their permission to share their location. Seznam.cz says it will delete all user location history data after the end of the pandemic. “Moreover, the data will be stored exclusively by Seznam for the entire duration of the application. We will not share them with anyone and after the end of the pandemic we will delete them from our servers,” Seznam.cz’s Jeřábek added.

mapy.cz
Illustration of the warning on Mapy.cz / via Sezman.cz

Users need to have mobile data turned on when they venture out of their homes to send location sharing data. The application sends about 200 KB of data per day.

The application will ask for permission to share location to all users that it finds in the Czech Republic at startup, regardless of the language of the phone settings. Battery life may decrease due to location sharing.

The application will send you a message if your journey at about the same time intersected with that of another person who has tested positive for coronavirus. It will not tell you who that person was, where it was, or when it was. The map will not show pinpoints or hotspots or any other identifying data.

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“You won’t see [a list of infected people]. The system works with location history. If we evaluate that you could be in the same place as the positive test person, we will send you a message. We cannot reveal the identity of positively tested people or show their current location,” Seznam said in its Q&A about the app.

“If we evaluate that you may have been in proximity to a person who has been tested positive for [the virus] for a significant period of time, we may notify you of a probable contact,” Seznam.cz added.

As with all crowd-sourced apps, it is only as good as its participants. “We are working hard to get data from all subjects that work together to stop the epidemic. At the same time, we are preparing a call for positively tested people to work directly with us. As a result, data does not have to be transmitted through various entities and we can take care of their privacy,” Senam.cz states.

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If you do not get a notification, that does not mean that you did not come in contact with a positive-tested person. “The whole system is based on voluntary cooperation of positive-tested persons and by its nature cannot be 100% reliable. But it can be a valuable tool in combating the spread of infection.” Senam.cz added.

The technology also has its limits. Location data may not work accurately in buildings, the metro, and other places where tracking doesn’t work.

Many people over social media expressed reluctance to get involved, due to privacy concerns over their data. Despite assurances, they worry they could be identified and stigmatized for life for spreading the illness.

Others were concerned that the app could give people an illusion that they are safe. One person said people can be in public for two weeks before showing symptoms, and that many people with symptoms haven’t been tested. The app will only ever count a small fraction of infected people. “This will give you a false perception of safety, which can be even more dangerous,” that person added.

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