The government doesn't know how many real users of Immuni are

The government doesn't know how many real users of Immuni are

Apple does not provide the number of installations of the contact tracing app. So the data on the people who actually use it is partial: only Android users are known

The first layouts of Immuni, the app for contact tracing in Italy (source: Bending Spoons / Ministry of Innovation) The Italian government does not know all the data on how many people actually use Immuni. There is a shadow in the balance of installations, which has long been required to establish the spread of the contact tracing app, and it concerns iPhones. Unlike Google, Apple has not shared the information with national authorities, as the Ministry of Health writes in black and white in a request for access to the documents submitted by Wired. Result: five months after the launch of Immuni, the exact number of iPhones on which the app was installed is unknown at the top of the Conte executive. While what the official papers certify is that the number of actual users of Immuni is lower than what the government discloses in official communications, that is, downloads.

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Apple Mystery

So far the Conte executive has always adhered to the number of people who have downloaded Immuni. However, this does not exclude that the user may have uninstalled the app immediately. His head, therefore, would be counted in the download census without however contributing in a concrete way to the tracking of coronavirus infections.

For the first time Wired is able to provide the official balance sheet of Immuni's installations (until 12 October). But only for Android devices. Because, as the response from the Ministry of Health, owner of the application data, attests, "the number of active Immuni iOs devices is not available through the tools made available by Apple".

The photograph of the situation, therefore, is partial. On Monday, October 12, the Immuni download counter reaches 8,605,896. Android side, active users are 4,907,010. In reality, users with Apple smartphones should be added to these, the quantity of which, however, is jealously guarded in the servers of the Cupertino multinational and denied to the highest levels of the Italian government.

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The issue of numbers

At the end of September Wired sent a request for access to the documents to the Ministry of Health the daily history of downloads and active and functioning installations, which therefore contribute to the contact tracing activity, for every Monday since the national debut of Immuni (June 15), both nationally and regionally.

For downloads the problem does not arise. Apple and Google, which on April 10 announced a collaboration to make the devices of their respective teams communicate via bluetooth and develop a turnkey technology for all governments struggling with contact tracing apps, provide a timely report. So much so that they are among those published in the new repository on Github by the Ministry of Innovation.

For months that of downloads is the data that the government has disclosed. And that he publicly uses when he has to measure Italy's distance from the adoption thresholds indicated in some research by the University of Oxford on the impact of contact tracing apps in the prevention of infections. The most recent establishes that, with a spread of 15% over the entire resident population (as confirmed by Wired), a reduction of up to 15% in infections and up to 11.8% of deaths can be observed.

However, it is the data on active installations that makes the difference. Long requested and so far never publicly disclosed. And now we understand why: the government is missing a piece, that of Apple. The Ministry of Health has never communicated the real users of Immuni because it only knows a part of it. What can be said, according to the app's official dashboard, is that iPhones are the minority: 26.63% of downloads are in the iOS environment, the rest on Android (October 28). If this report were also kept valid for the latest data on installations provided to Wired, dating back to October 12 (since it has been public, the percentage differs slightly), the downloads on Android would amount to 6.28 million on 8.6. totals. As a result, active users (4.9 million from the data provided to Wired by the ministry) would be 78.1% of downloads. To be sure of the data, however, the other piece of the puzzle would be needed. The one in the hands of Apple, which however hides it from the government.

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Apple's rubber wall

So far Immuni's has been an obstacle course. Some regions, such as Veneto, have boycotted it for weeks. Other health care facilities were unable to handle the risk contact notifications. And the stories of users who do not receive the notice of exposure are multiplying.

As some witnesses told Wired, especially with iPhones (but the malfunction also occurs with Android) the notification that warns a citizen of having been close to a person who tested positive for coronavirus remains trapped in the application . Until Immuni opens, it cannot be viewed. So it happens that people discover after weeks, if not months, that they have been exposed to a risk contact, when it is too late to apply the fiduciary quarantine measures.

According to Wired, a week ago the government raised the issue at all levels of Apple, but has so far received no response. A rubber wall that, according to what emerges from the exclusive documents that Wired has obtained, returns to the relations between the Ministry of Health and the Cupertino giant.

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The contact tracing technology license

“Apple makes no warranty that Apple products, the API ( application programming interface, the procedures for running a software, ed) for the notification of exhibitions or any data deriving from the Api for the notification of exhibitions meet your requirements ", reads the terms of the license that the Italian government has signed with the giant of the Apple on the use of the software at the base of Immuni. In short, Apple relieves itself of any responsibility relating to the maintenance of the application.

And as the company states in the same contract, "Apple has no obligation to provide maintenance, technical or other support for the API of the notification of exposures", whose testing activities fall entirely on who has signed the contract, even in the case of "new releases of updates on the operating system". In the case of Google, however, the incipit of the license agreement is striking. "By clicking 'I accept' below", it reads, as if they were the terms of any app to download.

And there is no reason to believe that things have been more complex than installing a simple online game. "This Administration has only signed the acceptance of the additional terms of service online, during the publication of the Immune App in the stores," clarifies the ministry in a letter accompanying the documents requested by Wired. And he comments: "There have been no further digital communications between this Administration and Apple and Google".

Overall, the two giants' descent into the field has unlocked the technological impasse on expedients to communicate their respective smartphones. And today it allows data to be circulated internationally, as demonstrated by the experience of the European interchange node, which will allow you to use the national app also abroad (which so far involves Italy, Germany, Ireland and, the latest arrivals, Lithuania and Spain). The only country left out of the game is France, which has deliberately chosen an approach contrary to that of Apple and Google. However, turnkey technology has its costs. Big G and Cupertino reserve any right to suspend the distribution of the app or to interrupt the functioning of the framework they offer. Or, even, to deny our government access to data.

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