Despite European hopes being invested in the technology, contact tracing apps have only succeeded in tracking 5% of registered cases since they were introduced in the EU. The lack of public confidence in the scheme has proven to be an insurmountable hurdle.
Contact tracing apps have failed in the EU. Since the onset of the pandemic, they have been talked of as an essential tool in preventing transmission and Member States did not hesitate to invest millions of Euros in their development. Then, their introduction was announced with great fanfare and ambitious communications campaigns were launched to promote their use. Yet only a year on, statistical analysis about their usage means that many have already been consigned to the dustbin.
What is clear is citizens did heed the advice of governments and institutions when it came to downloading the apps in the first place – in Germany, the Corona-Warn-App was downloaded 15.8m times in its first month, equivalent to 20% of the population, while 2.5m Finns downloaded the Koronavikku app two months into the app’s life, amounting to 45% of the population. It was only afterwards, when citizens realised that the apps were ineffective as well affecting storage and battery life, that they stopped being used.
When the apps were released, health authorities declared that they would need to be downloaded by 60% of the population in order for the technology to have a lasting and real impact, though Ireland was the only EU country to hit that target; at the end of November 2021, the Irish ‘Covid Tracker’ app had 3.75m downloads, equivalent to 75% of the population. Later studies did, however, demonstrate that a download rate of 20% would contribute to slowing down infections, a rate which most Member States were able to hit.
Nevertheless, positive case data alerted through these apps tells a different story – only one in twenty-five Europeans reported positive cases to track and trace apps – of an enormous lost opportunity and, in some cases, of a waste of money. In Croatia, each of the seventy-seven cases notified to the ‘Stop COVID-19’ app cost the Croatian government €1,683 on average, and this was an app that wa