How Germany is launching a coronavirus-tracing app that protects privacy

Berlin has put the new system through stringent tests to guard against potential cybersecurity failings

germany coronavirus
Germany’s coronavirus emergency task force monitors the global spread
(Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Germany has launched a coronavirus contract-tracing app that the government claims is the “best” yet when it comes to data protection.

The authorities in Berlin have been lauded for their effective response to the pandemic, yet are launching an app to track the spread of the virus weeks later than many other European nations.

But “having watched similar efforts in other countries fall apart”, Germany was “determined to avoid such pitfalls by extensively testing its app for privacy and cybersecurity failings”, says Politico.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Like the proposed UK app, the German version “analyses short-range Bluetooth signals between cell phones to alert people who have been close to an infected person for more than 15 minutes”, the news site reports.

However, in approach backed by Apple and Google, Germany’s app does not save information from all users in one place. Instead, the app encrypts the collected data, which is stored on users’ phones and deleted after 14 days.

Although use of the new contact-tracing technology is voluntary, Germany’s 30 largest companies on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange are set to publicly back a “promotional push” to persuade citizens to give it a try.

Officials are claiming that the app is so secure that “even government ministers can use it”, says the Associated Press.

Helge Braun, chief of staff for Chancellor Angela Merkel, has praised the app as the “front runner in its field”, reports Deutsche Welle. Braun said that while it was not “not the first warning app worldwide that has been put forward… I am quite convinced that it is the best”.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

The German government spent €20m (£17.9m) developing the app, which was built by home-grown technology companies SAP and Deutsche Telekom.

In what Politico describes as an “unprecedented open-source collaboration”, the two firms regularly published the code behind the final app online during development, “leading to more than 2,100 submissions with feedback from technology experts how to improve it”.

The app’s launch comes days after Norway was forced to delete all of the data collected by its version in response to privacy concerns raised by the Nordic nation’s data protection watchdog.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.