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Ethical test: final phase corona app testing

In recent weeks, UT researchers have been testing the user orientation of CoronaMelder, the Netherlands Covid-19 notification app designed to warn those who are at risk of becoming infected with coronavirus because of spending too much time in close contact with someone who is infected. Next week during the final phase of testing, UT professor Peter-Paul Verbeek will be taking a close look at the app’s potential impact on people and society with the help of participants from a wide cross-section of social groups.

Testing the corona notification app in Twente

In June, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport announced that the Netherlands’ notification app CoronaMelder would be tested in the region of Twente, the easternmost part of the country. Two of the three test projects have in the meantime been finished or started. Under the leadership of UT’s Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen, Professor of Persuasive Health Technology, a user test was conducted in order to gain greater insight into the practical functioning of the app, and to invite suggestions for improving the final version. Professor Wolfgang Ebbers, special appointment at Erasmus University, led an extensive field trial in which a thousand participants in the region were asked to install and test the app in their daily lives. Twente Region public health service (GGD) worked closely with researchers during the field trial to ensure the app functioned properly in contact tracking and tracing coronavirus.  

Ethical Assessment

The third and last phase of testing is the ethical assessment. This final phase is being conducted under the leadership of Peter-Paul Verbeek, UT professor in the field of human-technology relations, and consists of two parts: an expert panel and a citizen panel.
The expert panel, whose task was to define the professional parameters more clearly, was convened in July. The report of their findings and recommendations has already been sent to the lower house of parliament. On 14 August, a citizen panel will meet to discuss their responses to the app. This panel has been put together drawing on local people from a wide range of backgrounds, including restauranteurs, physiotherapists, police officers, medical professionals, administrators/managers and citizens without any specific profession. The panel will work according to the Approach to Ethics Guidance, which is dedicated to providing ethical guidance for technological developments when they are introduced into society.

Peter-Paul Verbeek: “We are working on possibilities for specific actions with the entire panel in order to do justice to the values that were identified during the trials: How can technology be modified (by redesigning the app)? How can the social setting be reconfigured (e.g. by changes to regulations)? And how can using the app be shaped differently (e.g. by information and communications)? Many ethical questions are really connected to the use of the app and its social embedding, and not the technical design alone.” 

Citizen Science

Throughout the various phases of testing, the expertise of DesignLab and the TechMed Centre was used in the area of Citizen Science. A diverse group of citizens has been invited to play an active part in the practical aspects of scientific research – both remotely from their smartphones and in person at DesignLab. In this way, not only are experts involved for their analyses, but predominantly citizens – with their ideas, concerns and engagement – have been given a central role in testing the corona app.

L.P.W. van der Velde MSc (Laurens)
Spokesperson Executive Board (EB)