Germany will soon roll out its coronavirus-tracking smartphone app, the country’s health minister, Jens Spahn, announced Sunday.
“It’s coming this week,” Spahn told ARD television, though he declined to confirm several local reports about a possible Tuesday release date, per Reuters.
Developed in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom and software company SAP, Germany’s app works similarly to other contact-tracing apps being developed in several countries worldwide. It uses short-range Bluetooth to notify people that come within range of a user’s smartphone if that user has tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and logged that info into the app.
In the race to map the spread of the virus and develop ways to contain it, federal authorities around the world, from India to Italy to the UK, have begun developing and deploying their own contact-tracing apps of varying Orwellian degrees.
Exactly how these government-run apps should work has been the subject of fierce debate. While there are always inherent dangers when transmitting and receiving data from such a large population, privacy experts argue that tracking via GPS data or more invasive technology has a greater likelihood of putting users’ data at risk than Bluetooth-based tech, since the latter wouldn’t have a centralized (and therefore hackable) database baked into its functionality.
In Germany, ensuring that the app would work at the correct distances while relying on Bluetooth caused several delays in development, according to government officials. Spahn added that this tool would play a vital role in staving off a potential second wave of infections. To date, the country’s seen about 187,000 cases of covid-19 and 8,800 deaths. Compared to other countries, Germany’s managed to keep its number of deaths from covid-19 relatively low thanks to wide-scale testing efforts and stringent social distancing measures.
On Monday, Germany plans to relax its blanket travel ban on visitors from elsewhere in the European Union and Great Britain. Moving forward, it will tailor specific travel advice to each country individually as part of a measured nationwide reopening.
“We need the right balance,” Spahn said, adding that local reopenings and the restoration of church services had already resulted in a few outbreaks.
Apple and Google teamed up in April to develop a contact-tracing API for companies and public health organizations to use in their coronavirus-tracking apps, and it’s since been onboarded in 23 countries. To date, America has been much more hesitant than other nations to embrace contact-tracing tech as part of their emergency response—and some would argue it’s for good reason.