Germany snubs Apple and Google's contact tracing technology

Apple Google Partner On Covid 19 Contact Tracing Technology
Apple Google Partner On Covid 19 Contact Tracing Technology (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Germany has opted for a contact tracing app based on the Pan-European-Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing's platform.
  • The platform involves holding personal data of users on a centralized server.
  • Apple has refused to allow such apps to use Bluetooth in the background because of privacy concerns.

Germany has opted to base its coronavirus contact tracing app on the centralized PEPP-PT platform, putting it at odds with Apple.

As reported by Reuters:

Germany has chosen a home-grown technology for smartphone-based tracing of coronavirus infections, putting it at odds with Apple which has refused on privacy grounds to support the necessary short-range communication on iPhones. The government has told lawmakers it has chosen a design developed for the Robert Koch Institute - the agency leading Germany's coronavirus health response - that would hold personal data on a central server.

In the EU, governments want to use Bluetooth "handshakes" to measure the risk of infection, however, camps are split on the holding of data on a central server.

Germany has now backed a platform developed by PEPP-PT. That stands for Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, their app has been created by the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute. As noted by Chancellor Merkel's spokesman:

"This solution requires the central storage of anonymized data, but represents a workable approach in terms of data protection and security"

The report notes however that Apple has "refused to allow such apps to monitory Bluetooth while running in the background", rendering them technically usefully, or highly ineffective. Apple and Google recently announced a joint contact tracing technology effort based on "device-based, decentralized apps." An opposition party member said that leaders were in talks with Apple "but so far no solution is in sight."

The issue is identical to the concerns raised by France just two days ago. The French government claims that Apple's privacy policy is blocking France from releasing its own contact tracing app. From that report:

Cedric O, the country's Digital Minister, says that Apple's privacy-focused policy for how it handles Bluetooth is preventing France from building the app that it needs to protect its citizens.

Recently, the EU's Thierry Breton called on Apple directly, saying it had "a responsibility to ensure contact tracing apps worked on its iOS platform. Clearly, none of these countries seem to be catching on to the fact that Apple and Google will not support contact tracing apps that involve the extraction or storage of the personal data of its users.

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Stephen Warwick