The new and improved Smittestopp

Open source, collaboration, better privacy and data protection are all part of the new, improved Smittestop app. Here’s how it works now - and how one of Equinor’s own developers helped.

Norwegians may remember the first version Smittestopp that was released in April of 2020. At launch, it received widespread criticism from Norwegian IT specialists but the new app, Smittestopp 2, invited its strongest critics to help improve it.

“It’s been really exciting to be a part of this and to see that they’ve listened to criticism and feedback during development. The new version of Smittestopp is greatly improved and a much better product this time around,” Harald Wesenberg tells us.

Harald has been a part of the expert panel that has advised Folkehelseinstituttet (FHI), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, during development of the new Smittestopp app. Normally, he works in Software Innovation in Equinor, but was asked to join the panel by Tekna, the Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals, who were one of the previous version’s strongest critics.

Harald Wesenberg (left) was joined by Lise Lyngsnes Randeberg, President of Tekna, on the Smittestopp expert panel. Together with 17 others, they advised the Norwegian Institute of Public Health on development of the Smittestopp contact tracing app. (Photo: Jon Leirdal)

“The process has been very transparent this time around. There’s been a public Slack channel available, all documentation has been posted on Github and the code is all open source. I’m very impressed with the way it’s been handled."

Harald Wesenberg

The expert panel consists of 19 people with various backgrounds and competences, from people working with the blind and visually impaired, immigrants and the elderly, to IT specialists and medical professionals. See the full list here (in Norwegian).

The new Smittestopp app won’t defeat any virus entirely, and the best way to fight it is still to wash your hands, maintain social distancing and adhering to local and national regulations.

What's new? 

In addition to a more transparent process, there are quite a few other changes to the new Smittestopp app. The new app...

  • stores the data locally on your phone
  • uses only Bluetooth for tracing, not GPS and satellites. In other words, it doesn’t store where you’ve visited
  • uses less battery
  • is only used for contact tracing, not analysis or research
  • doesn’t collect data that can be used to identify you
  • doesn’t notify others automatically, you have to do it yourself

Source: (in Norwegian)

Works like a raffle ticket

The new version of Smittestopp uses the Exposure Notification Service developed by Google and Apple. Bluetooth technology registers when you’re close to another user. 

Smittestopp doesn’t store any personal info, it actually works a little like a raffle ticket. When you meet someone, let’s call them “Charlie”, you receive a part of their raffle ticket - and vice versa. Smittestopp will then remember that you were in close contact with each other. 

If and when Charlie tests positive for Covid-19, a token goes out from their doctor/laboratory and to Smittestopp confirming that they tested positive. Then, Charlie can update their status in Smittestopp and you’ll be notified.

“However, you won’t be notified of who it was or when. Just that someone you’ve had close contact with has tested positive. There’s been a lot of work on privacy every step of the way, making it very difficult to track people,” Harald says. 

“Charlie” also won’t be able to let Smittestopp know they tested positive without a token from health care providers confirming their status.

See for yourself

Transparency was a key part of the work on Smittestopp. Take a look for yourself at the source code at the different Github repos:

Tried and tested

The expert panel has been providing advice, but development itself has been done by NetCompany. They developed the Danish version of Smittestopp, and Norway’s version runs on the same principles.Their experience in industrial software and app development made them the right choice, Harald says.

“It’s a much more tried and tested approach this time, and we know that the functionality works. That doesn’t mean that Smittestopp will be a cure-all; it’s still very much reliant on people actually using it,” Harald says.

So what was it like for the team at FHI to have this expert panel around? Senior Engineer Sindre Møgster Braaten explains that they were curious to how this collaboration would work in real life. They were even a little worried if they would have to spend most of their time simply defending their choices.

“We’ve seen that transparency isn’t scary and that we can get a lot out of collaborating with externals. Smittestopp is now of better quality and we’ve had experts to ask, without it taking up too much of our resources.”

Sindre Møgster Braaten

“Usually, meetings would start with us presenting what we’ve done, considered or challenges we faced. Then, we had great discussions on how to do things, what problems we might encounter and received a lot of great ideas and feedback. It’s been really great having this dialogue, Sindre tells us.

Download Smittestopp

Continuing with transparency

Sindre explains that they’re very happy with the process, and especially lucky to have so many people working pro-bono as part of the panel. 

“Personally, I hope we can continue this way of working with an expert panel, especially with solutions that affect the general public, combined with an process that’s as open as possible,” Sindre says.

Downloading and installing the app is voluntary, but its effect is greatly increased by the number of people who use it.  

“I’m really glad that Equinor IT have been able to assist FHI and their expert panel through one of our employees. We have talented developers and tech specialists working for us, and I’m proud to see that they are taking part in processes like this.”

 Magrete Torland, sector manager Software Innovation

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Until next time!

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