Germany flips on smartphone contact tracing, backs Apple and Google

Germany flips on smartphone contact tracing, backs Apple and Google

Germany changed course on Sunday about what type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to detect coronavirus infections, and supported an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries.

Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn told the newspaper Welt Sonntag that Berlin is a & # 39; decentralized & # 39; approach of digital contact tracking, thereby abandoning an alternative from home. Nations are rushing to develop apps to widely assess the risk of COVID-19, with the chain of infection proving difficult to break because the flu-like illness can be spread by those who show no symptoms.

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth handshakes between devices as the best approach, but differed on whether or not to register such contacts on a central server or on individual devices. Germany recently supported an initiative called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), whose centralized approach was criticized in hundreds of scientists in an open letter last Monday as the way to state surveillance.

“We will support a decentralized architecture that only stores contacts on devices. That is good for trust,” Braun told ARD public television in an interview. While Bluetooth-based smartphone contact tracking is an untested technology and early results in countries like Singapore are modest, its development is already redefining the relationship between the state and the individual.

It would work by assessing the proximity and duration of contact between people and, if a person tests positive for COVID-19, telling recent contacts to call a doctor, get tested, or isolate themselves.

FROM THE CASE

One of the members of PEPP-PT, the German research institute Fraunhofer HHI, was told on Saturday that it was being removed from the project, according to correspondence from Reuters. “The project will be transferred and others will be able to use the results we have achieved so far to build a decentralized solution,” said Thomas Wiegand, head of Fraunhofer HHI, in a message to colleagues.

Germany’s move would align its approach with that of Apple and Google of Alphabet, who said this month that they would develop new tools to support decentralized contact tracking. Importantly, under the proposed configuration, Apple’s iPhone would only work well with decentralized protocols such as DP-3T, developed by a Switzerland-led team and supported by Switzerland, Austria and Estonia.

Health authorities are keen to understand the spread of infections and use digital contact tracking to support existing teams who make phone calls and knock on doors to warn at-risk groups. Supporters of DP-3T, short for Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, say it is still possible for users to choose to share their phone number to facilitate contacts tracking – but this would be part of an app and not the system architecture.

And while Bluetooth means that the location of a contamination event may not be known to the authorities, it would still be possible for users to share epidemiologically useful data under a decentralized approach by signing up. DP-3T said in a statement that it was “very pleased to see Germany adopting a decentralized approach to contact tracking and we look forward to the next steps to implement such a technique in a privacy-preserving manner.”

PEPP-PT said it planned to issue a statement in due course. The Fraunhofer HHI Institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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