Corona tracking apps: Why is Software QA a key element in the downfall of COVID-19?
Updated: Apr 21
Since the beginning of the year, the world is collectively fighting the SARS-COV-2 pandemic outbreak. Worldwide nearly all governments have taken drastic measures to isolate people at home in order to low down further spreading of the COVID-19 virus. Distinction is made between crucial sectors which need to remain operational at all cost to keep society and healthcare running (healthcare workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, food industry workers, banking, public transport, …) and less crucial sectors (leisure, horeca, …). Lately reports in the media about non tightly fitting or insufficiently fitting and or filtering mouth masks have suggested that quality still remains utterly important, but how crucial is the role of the (software) quality engineer in this Corona crisis?
In order to find an answer, we have to look into the near future. It becomes more and more apparent that general lockdown measures can and will only be released when they can be replaced by a more personal and refined technological solution to fight the COVID-19 virus. The ongoing contagion can indeed be more effectively halted if individuals can be placed selectively in quarantine, meaning only when they have a high risk of contamination. However because 45% of the contaminations is originating of people who have not yet developed any symptoms, it is necessary to pre-emptively warn and isolate anybody who has been in contact with a positively tested case. Several Asian countries have started to use 'proximity tracking' apps. These software applications keep a list of people you have been in close contact with so, you can be alerted when one of these people test positively for COVID-19. This will enable you to go into isolation as a precaution, before feeling any symptoms. Similar initiatives are ongoing in Europe.
Corona app QA
The (software) quality engineer is the appropriate person to take different quality perspectives on such apps (e.g. TraceTogether): a first perspective is the functional correctness and relevance of the app. Technologies such as Bluetooth or GPS are used to measure the distance between the phones of two users. Validation and verification of used technologies are needed to assure the correctness and sufficient accuracy to be epidemiologically relevant. Given the large intended audience, the interface of such Corona monitoring apps needs to be straightforward and self-explanatory with simple visuals to make it obvious if you are at risk. Any action required from end-users should be formulated in simple language to safeguard efficiency. End users are no virologists who can interpret statistical data such as you have x% chance to be contaminated. The guideline should be uniform and clear: go into isolation or not.
GDPR compliance is key
Even more important are the non-functional characteristics. Any application deployed in Europe is bound to comply with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) to assure data and privacy protection. The (software) quality engineer will have to check if mechanisms such as local implementation (on phone only), anonymous or pseudo-anonymous registration of people (without personal or geolocation information) and temporarily registration of contacts (no longer than the maximum incubation time) are correctly implemented. Positive case information driving the isolation requirement for people who have been exposed will have to come from a trusted authority which can authenticate itself as such.
Alerting speed is crucial
Mathematical models have shown that the velocity by which the potentially contaminated people are informed and put themselves into isolation is crucial to be effective in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence QA tests should not only focus on the application performance but also on the scalability and performance of the trusted party (national health authorities) processes to confirm the contamination, get the encrypted local contact list from the phone of the contaminated people and to warn the chain of possibly infected people to put themselves in quarantine.
Interoperability of Corona apps & platforms
A final quality consideration is interoperability. This virus does not discriminate between nationalities, people had and have international contacts in our global economies. Therefore it should be tested how tracing apps in different countries will work together. In other words: if an infection chain crosses borders how will other foreign residents be informed. From the above considerations, the continued crucial role of the quality engineer becomes clear. Their contribution in these challenging times is more than needed to assure we are not only fighting the virus but do it in a qualitative way.
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