A Center for Sustainable Cloud Computing

Each year, Fortune magazine recognizes the top 40 influencers or emerging leaders aged below 40 years. In a deviation, the magazine has taken cognizance of the monumental challenges and changes witnessed this year by highlighting 40 influential people in five categories instead of one: finance, technology, healthcare, government and politics, and media and entertainment. Carmela Troncoso, head of the Security and Privacy Engineering Lab (SPRING) in EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC), figures in the technology category for her leading role in building the Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing system, or DP-3T.

DP-3T stores temporary, anonymized contact data on a user’s phone, rather than on a central server, making hacks or misuse much harder. The system’s design helped guide Apple and Google’s development of a shared contact-tracing protocol, which is now being used by COVID-19 tracing apps across Europe and the U.S. DP-3T is the basis for SwissCovid, a tracing app that serves as a useful tool in stemming the spread of the disease in Switzerland.

The work done by Troncoso and her team is quite extraordinary because privacy protection, a major anxiety for tech users, is at the core of DP-3T. Privacy concerns always topped Troncoso’s agenda. In a statement to Schweizer Illustrierte few months ago, she evinced those very thoughts: “The technological and social challenges [around the protection of privacy in IT systems] give me sleepless nights.” The result is DP-3T, a secure and privacy-preserving system that is playing a crucial role in fighting the pandemic.

Her inclusion in Fortune’s 40 Under 40 provides Troncoso a platform to showcase the work done by the SPRING lab in alleviating the negative impact of technology on society, such as privacy concerns, and presenting purely system-based solutions rather than data-driven platforms. She believes that the recognition by Fortune vindicates that approach. In her own words, “The SwissCovid tracing app is also purely a systems solution, it has no data. For the first time we have governments that have gone for data-less solutions and the fact that Fortune has recognized this paradigm change is key for privacy.”