11 things to know about Germany’s newly launched coronavirus tracing phone app

11 things to know about Germany's newly launched coronavirus tracing phone app
This is the new app. Photo: DPA
You can now download Germany's new coronavirus tracing app. Here's what to know about it.

When will you be able to use the Corona App? 

The Corona-Warn-App is available to download on smartphones now and it is scheduled to be available to use at the same time as it is presented to the public. The federal government planned to present the app on Tuesday June 16th at 10.30am.

Will it be possible to download the app to any smartphone? 

Apple and Google say the app can be downloaded to iPhones and Android devices. The iPhone requires the most up-to-date iOS system. This will not work on older iPhones 5, 5s or 6, according to RP Online. On Android devices a 6S version is required for loading the app. Google Play Services must also be running on the devices, which is not the case with the latest Huawei models.

Note that the app is only available to people using the Germany Apple and Google Play stores. So if you have another country's store on your phone you won't be able to download it.

Is there an alternative to the smartphone?

Theoretically yes. For example, key fobs could be equipped with technology. This kind of alternative has not yet been proposed by the government. However, it is quite possible these options will become available at a later date.

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Given its fairly long development time, will the app be better than others? 

We have to see how it works in practice. On a positive note, the government, together with SAP and Telekom, the companies commissioned to develop the app, already published the programming data in advance to give experts the chance to test it.

According to the government, 285 suggestions for improvement have been received so far. The feedback is helping to make the app better.

READ ALSO: How will Germany's coronavirus tracing app work?

How does the app work?

The Corona-Warn-App uses bluetooth technology to measure the distance and duration of the encounter between people who have installed the app. In order to be effective, the phone needs to have bluetooth turned on at all times. 

Once turned on, the app determines the distance between two phones due to signal strength.

Users will need to be within one and a half metres of each other for a period of time longer than 15 minutes. This distance and time period is used because experts believe it is the minimum required to transmit the virus. 

Graph by Statista for The Local

If two phones are within proximity of each other for more than the minimum time, the devices will exchange automatically developed IDs. 

If a person tests positive for the virus, a specially generated code with the test result is sent to that person. This code then needs to be scanned into the person's smartphone.

Everyone who came into contact with them will be anonymously notified. The app also gives the user a notification of their personal ‘risk level for infection'. 

Using this information, a person will then be able to contact the health authorities and ask for a coronavirus test. If they test positive, they can then scan the QR code on their positive test into the app.

At no point in time does this procedure allow connections to be made to you or your location.

Loading the app as well as the responsible handling of your own test result and the feeding of the data is voluntary, not mandatory. The app is not automatically loaded onto phones, and the health authorities have no access to the data.

What do I do if I get a warning from my app? 

You should contact the relevant health authority or your doctor. The warning does not automatically lead to quarantine. However, it would make sense to isolate yourself if possible until you are tested.

An official quarantine can only be imposed by the public health department after talking to them but, to make clear again, they have no access to the data unless you tell them.

Photo: DPA

What about data protection? 

The government said privacy protection was a “top priority” for them. The decision to store the data collected by the app decentrally, i.e. only on the smartphone owners' phone, was an important step to protect the users' data.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, Ulrich Kelber, has also given feedback into the development. “It is particularly important to me that the relevant documents on data protection, especially the data protection impact assessment, are ready when the app is launched,” he said last week.

“I am confident that the companies and authorities involved will implement our advice as quickly as possible,” said Kelber. The documentation and legal texts available so far have made a solid impression overall.

Can there be manipulation?

Despite recent improvements, IT experts see a possible gateway for abuse when using a particular hotline. The hotline is needed because not all coronavirus test laboratories have a digital connection to the app yet.

If a person using the app is tested in one of these labs and the test is positive, the lab cannot automatically and anonymously feed the result into the app, so that the user can warn other people. The infected person has to call a hotline and answer test questions from call centre staff to ensure that the person has actually tested positive.

READ: Germany gets ready to launch coronavirus tracing app

The questions and answers must not allow any inference about the person. However, because this is the case, the questions could be answered by another person, who could then trigger a false warning message in the app.

How many people have to participate in order for the tracing app to really work?

Experts estimate that 60 percent of the population should participate for it to really be effective. Health Minister Jens Spahn is pragmatic and says that everyone who downloads the app helps. For the first few weeks, he hopes for several million people to sign up.

How much is the app costing the government?

The development of the app has cost about €20 million. The operation will cost between €2.5 and €3.5 million per month. A large part of the operating costs are accounted for by the hotline, which not only releases positive test results for uploading in the app, but is also available to answer any other questions.

Will the app also be of use to me abroad?

The app is not yet compatible with other European countries but the government says it will work on that in future after introducing it successfully in Germany.

“Through the bluetooth protocol as well as the standards of Google and Apple, there is a means to connect the appropriate roaming functionality,” says the German government.

“We are already in close exchange with other countries, for example with Switzerland, the Netherlands and France, in order to be able to establish interoperability across national borders.”

The government has published more information on the app here.
 


Member comments

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  1. The store claims that “the app is not available in my country”. I live in Berlin and the phone was bought in MediaMarkt. So yeah, not too good.

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