The sound of coronavirus: Israeli apps helping contain pandemic

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JERUSALEM (AFP) – One app tells you if you’ve been in the vicinity of a coronavirus carrier and another aims to assess whether you have COVID-19 based on the sound of your voice.

In Israel, sometimes dubbed the “start-up nation” with nearly 10 percent of workers employed in high-tech, the coronavirus pandemic has seen a flurry of new technologies designed to contain transmission.

Start-Up Nation Central, an NGO, has compiled a directory of some 70 Israeli technology companies developing responses to the new virus, which has infected more than 4,000 people in the country.

One app that has stood out so far is Hamagen, Hebrew for “the shield”, launched earlier this month by the health ministry.

Using geolocation technology, the app informs users about any points of contact with known COVID-19 cases.

Available in five languages, Hamagen has been downloaded by more than a million users.

The fortunate ones receive messages saying “no points of intersection have been found with coronavirus patients”.

“We’ll let you know if there is anything new,” it adds.

Hamagen was launched amid a controversy over plans to involve Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency in the fight against the virus.

Critics warned that allowing a powerful investigative body access to personal devices without a court order could mark an irrevocable setback in the effort to safeguard data protection.

Israel’s highest court ruled that any Shin Bet involvement required parliamentary oversight.

Hamagen requires user consent and the health ministry has assured that “GPS data does not leave your mobile phone, and is not sent to any third party”.

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