Germany's COVID-19 contact tracing app arrives this week

It's based on a privacy-focused, decentralized approach.

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13 May 2020, Brandenburg, Potsdam: Manja Schüle (SPD), Brandenburg Minister of Science, Research and Culture, put on a mouth and nose protector during the session of the Brandenburg state parliament. Because of the danger of infection by corona, the seats of the members of parliament were protected with transparent walls made of Plexiglas. Photo: Soeren Stache/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

Germany will be the next big country to launch a COVID-19 contact tracing app. Health Minister Jens Spahn has confirmed that the app is “coming this week,” with reports suggesting that it might be ready as soon as June 16th. Like Italy and some other countries, it’s using a decentralized approach to data that might protect privacy better than the central methods of countries like Australia.

As elsewhere, the app is meant to supplement conventional contact tracing (where staff reach out to people who came close to COVID-19 victims). This ideally makes it easier to isolate exposed people and prevent a second wave of infections that could lead to overwhelmed hospitals and further lockdowns.

The country faces similar challenges, too. Contact tracing apps generally require large-scale adoption to be truly effective, and that doesn’t always happen — Singapore is considering tracing devices for every resident after relatively low uptake of its app. And while Germany’s system makes data theft and abuse more difficult, there are lingering concerns about technology that requires constant (if anonymous) Bluetooth interactions.

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Still, a lot may ride on this app. Germany is poised to hold limited events like IFA as soon as September. If it’s going to go forward with these, it needs as much information as possible about potential outbreaks if it’s going to keep infections down and have visitors feel relatively safe.

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