Germany says its coronavirus contact tracing app is ready

Germany’s health minister said Sunday that its contact tracing smartphone app will be launched this week, Reuters reported.

The app uses short-range Bluetooth to contact people who may have been exposed to someone who contracts the coronavirus, and doesn’t rely on a centralized database, according to Reuters.

Contact tracing involves interviewing infected people to find out where they’ve been and who they may have been in contact with, with the goal of slowing the spread of the virus.

While several other countries have already launched contact tracing apps, progress has been slower in the US, with concerns about privacy and accuracy.

Germany is set to relax its travel restrictions for European Union countries and the UK on Monday, and Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country will offer travel advice to foreign visitors.

Germany has had more than 186,000 cases of coronavirus and 8,787 deaths, but has been hailed for its widespread testing efforts and social distancing measures.

Google and Apple joined together for an ambitious emergency project, laying out a new protocol for tracking the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. It’s an urgent, complex project, with huge implications for privacy and public health.

Similar projects have been successful in Singapore and other countries, but it remains to be seen whether US public health agencies would be able to manage such a project — even with the biggest tech companies in the world lending a hand.

We covered the basic outlines of the project here, but there is a lot more to dig into — starting with the technical documents published by the two companies.

They reveal a lot about what Apple and Google are actually trying to do with this sensitive data, and where the project falls short. So we took a dive into those filings and tried to answer the twelve most pressing questions, starting at the absolute beginning:

When someone gets sick with a new disease like this year’s coronavirus, public health workers try to contain the spread by tracking down and quarantining everyone that infected person has been in contact with. This is called contact-tracing, and it’s a crucial tool in containing outbreaks.

Essentially, Apple and Google have built an automated contact-tracing system. It’s different from conventional contact-tracing, and probably most useful when combined with conventional methods. Most importantly,

it can operate at a far greater scale than conventional contact tracing, which will be necessary given how far the outbreak has spread in most countries. Because it’s coming from Apple and Google, some of this functionality will also eventually be built in to Android and iPhones at an OS-level.

That makes this technical solution potentially available to more than three billion phones around the world — something that would be impossible otherwise.

It’s important to note that what Apple and Google are working on together is a framework and not an app. They’re handling the plumbing and guaranteeing the privacy and security of the system, but leaving the building of the actual apps that use it to others.