Berlin – June 29: Many Germans trust their government to fight the spread of the pandemic. This can also be seen in the response to the Corona Warning App. What works well? Where are there still problems?
The German Warning App for infections with the COVID-19 pathogen has made it into the British House of Commons.
In a speech duel between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Keir Starmer, Johnson said he should tell him a country with a working warning App. “Germany! Has been running since June 15th. Twelve million downloads” replied Starmer.
In fact, there are currently quite a few reports from European countries – Italy and France for example – where the response to a warning App is modest. One reason could be concerns about data security. When data is stored centrally like in France – unlike in Germany.
The French government suspects another reason. There are “cultural differences,” said Digital Secretary of State Cédric O. “Behavior in relation to the epidemic” and “Appreciation of government behavior” differed in Berlin and Paris.
Surprisingly High Interest
According to surveys, the majority of Germans have found the federal government’s crisis management to be correct and effective for weeks. In relation to a warning App, however, surveys had revealed a high level of skepticism.
It is all the more surprising that around 13 million citizens in Germany have downloaded the software a week after the App launch, as the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin recently announced.
The RKI is the national health authority and publisher of the App. The numbers are higher than in all other EU countries combined, said Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn proudly. However, no one can say how many users may have deleted the App again or not at all or using it improperly.
Technically, an important hurdle should be overcome: A tracing App as part of a pandemic concept including hygiene, distance, and respiratory protection is effective from 15 percent of the total population, according to experts from Oxford.
However, there could be more. Because, as government spokesman Steffen Seibert explained, the technology does not run on older mobile phones. At least iPhone 6s or Android 6 are required. According to media reports, older models will soon also be App-capable. But that remains to be seen.
Otherwise, the App seems technically successful. Even the Chaos Computer Club, the most important hacker association, was satisfied – the source code of the App is open to view.
Now, however, initial difficulties are emerging, which is not unusual in the App business. For example, the App is not supported in a certain region. Users hope for an update soon with the corresponding bug fixes.
How the App Works
The software company SAP and the Telekom subsidiary T-Systems developed the App on behalf of the federal government. The technical concept with Bluetooth interfaces and decentralized storage comes from Apple and Google.
The Application uses Bluetooth to measure whether cell phone users have been in contact for a long time and stores this information on their smartphones. This is done in the background using cryptographic keys, so-called IDs, which are constantly sent and received. Movement profiles are not possible because the GPS data, i.e. the location data, are not tapped. IDs will be deleted after two weeks.
If someone has tested positive and enters this into the Application, it sends a push message to everyone who has been near an infected person. According to Telekom, there should be graduated warnings – depending on how long and how close you have come to an infected person. Everything happens anonymously and voluntarily.
The test result should soon be able to be entered into the App via a QR code and sent digitally to medical practices. Telekom is working on the corresponding infrastructure. You still have to call a hotline to get a pin number.
One of the main concerns of the App is to inform random person contacts, for example on a train journey. To establish communication between people who do not know each other and who would otherwise not inform themselves about the infection. And, the work of the health authorities is made easier. Because who remembers all the people he has met in the past few days?
First Warnings Are Out
According to media reports, the first warnings have already been issued. A central server distributes the warnings. The RKI initially did not want to comment on the first results. It was too early for that, said RKI President Lothar Weiler.
According to the RKI, the App can now also be downloaded for users in eleven neighboring countries in a good time at the beginning of the travel season. This allows Germans abroad to use the App as well as travelers in Germany.
Fear of a Second Wave
The launch of the App falls into a phase of the pandemic, in which the infection numbers are rising again and there is the fear of a second wave. The RKI attributes the increase to purely local outbreaks. Like most recently in slaughterhouses or in socially precarious apartment blocks in Berlin.
That’s why there is still criticism of the App. This is just a “toy of the digital upper class” said Patrick Larscheid, head of a Berlin health department. People who are poor and live cramped together would not benefit from such an App. “These people get sick again and again because they live the way they live.”