A German research institute, which is involved in the development of a COVID-19 contact tracking app with the support of the national government, has released some new details on the work, suggesting that the app is more of a "one-stop shop "Designed for coronavirus management is an impact at an individual level rather than the sole function of alerting users of a potential risk of infection.
Work on the German app began at the beginning of March, according to the Fraunhofer Institute. The first funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry of Health funded a feasibility study.
In a PDF released today, the research organization reveals that the government-sponsored app includes functions for health authorities to let users know directly about a COVID-19 test result if they choose to get results this way.
The system must ensure that only people who test positive for the virus provide their measurement data to avoid entering incorrect data. For the purpose of this validation process, it is provided that a digital connection to the existing diagnostic laboratories is implemented in the technical implementation.
"App users can voluntarily activate this notification function and be informed about their test results faster and more directly," says the press release (which we translated with Google from German) Translate) – argue that such direct digital notification of test results means that no "valuable time" is wasted to curb the spread of the virus.
Governments across Europe are endeavoring to launch Bluetooth-based contacts tracing apps. Apps from a number of other countries, including the UK and France, are in the works, although questions still remain about the effectiveness of digital contact tracking compared to such infectious diseases.
The big hope is that digital tools will offer a way out of economically crippling population closures by offering a way to automate at least some contact tracking – based on widespread smartphone penetration and the use of Bluetooth-based device proximity as a proxy for exposure to corona viruses.
The short-term goal is to prevent a new wave of infection if the blocking restrictions are lifted. Although, in line with the European legal framework, the use of contact tracking apps appears to be voluntary in most regions, governments are concerned that "health surveillance" will be imposed on citizens, as is essentially the case in China happened.
However, when contacts who track apps have features that are deeply embedded in national health systems, this raises questions about how optional their use will actually be.
A previous proposal by a German consortium of medical device manufacturers, laboratories, clinics, clinical data management systems, and blockchain solution providers – a blockchain-based digital corona health certificate that was advertised as being able to generate "verifiable, certified test results that can be fed into any tracing app ”to avoid false alarms – supposedly an example of the possible creeping of the functions of the City of Cologne's health department.
In March, Der Spiegel also reported on a large-scale study coordinated by the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig to examine antibody levels and determine population immunity. The German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) was reportedly involved in this study – and was instrumental in tracking national contacts.
Both the RKI and the Fraunhofer Institute also participate in parallel, Germany-led, EU-wide standardization efforts for COVID-19 contacts for tracking apps (PEPP-PT), which is the leading voice for apps to centralize proximity -Data with governments / health authorities rather than storing it on the user's device and performing risk processing locally.
As we reported earlier, PEPP-PT and its government supporters seem to be preparing to fight Apple for iOS restrictions on Bluetooth.
PEPP-PT bases its claim to be a "data protection" standard in not securing protocols or apps that use location data or mobile phone numbers – with only arbitrary (but pseudonymized) proximity IDs, which are used for the purpose of tracking close encounters between Devices and devices shared are potential coronavirus infections.
It has been claimed to be an agnostic between the centralization of proximity data and decentralization, although the only protocol for which it is publicly committed is a central one.
At the same time, however, regional data protection experts, the EU Parliament and even the European Commission have urged national governments to practice data minimization and decentralize tracing of COVID-19 contacts in order to strengthen citizens' trust by reducing the associated privacy risks.
If apps are voluntary, the trust of citizens does not have to be accepted, is the main argument. Without significant acceptance, the usefulness of tracking digital contacts seems doubtful.
Apple and Google have also come to the decentralized side of this debate – they made a joint effort for an API last week and later enabled system-wide tracing of contacts. The first version of their API is expected to be in developer hands next week.
Meanwhile, a coalition of nearly 300 scientists signed an open letter earlier this week warning that centralized systems could risk the risk of surveillance creep – support for decentralized protocols such as DP-3T: another contact tracking protocol that was developed by one separate European coalition that was very critical of PEPP-PT.
And while PEPP-PT recently claimed that seven governments had joined its approach and another 40 were in the pipeline, at least two of the alleged EU supporters (Switzerland and Spain) had actually announced they were adopting a decentralized approach.
The coalition has also lost the support of a number of key research organizations that originally advocated a privacy standard as the controversy surrounding its intent and lack of transparency has increased.
Still, the two largest EU economies, Germany and France, appear to be behind the move to centralize proximity data and target Apple.
Bloomberg earlier this week reported that the French government is pressuring Apple to lift Bluetooth restrictions on its COVID-19 contact tracking app, which also relies on a "trusted authority" that operates a central server (we have it) French ROBERT protocol discussed in detail here). .
Germany and France may hold on to their centralized weapons because there are bigger plans to add more to these contacts to track apps than just Bluetooth notifications – as suggested in the Fraunhofer document.
Access to data is another likely motivator.
"Only if research can access sufficiently valid data can forecasts be created that form the basis for planning further steps against the spread of the virus," continues the institute. (As mentioned earlier, the decentralized DP-3T protocol includes a path that users can use to enable the exchange of proximity data for research purposes.)
Another strand that emerges from Fraunhofer PDF is sovereignty.
"Overall, the approach is based on the conviction that the state healthcare system must have sovereignty over which criteria, risk calculations, recommendations for action and feedback are contained in such a system," he writes, adding: "To achieve the greatest possible result, user friendliness Devices on the market, technical cooperation with the target operating system providers Google and Apple is required. "
Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comments as to whether they would make changes to their API due to French and German printing.
Fraunhofer also notes that "full compatibility" has been achieved in the "recent weeks" between the German and the centralized app developed by the French research institutes Inria and Inserm – which underlines that the two nations are leading this special contact tracking boost.
In related news this week, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) issued guidelines for contact developers that track apps. An EU legal principle regarding the processing of personal data was highlighted, which is referred to as a limitation of purpose, to exclude further processing for purposes that are not related to coping with the COVID-19 health crisis (e.g. for commercial or law enforcement purposes) . "
It sounds a bit like the slider drawing a line in the sand to warn of conditions that may be trying to turn contacts that track apps into passports for immunity to coronaviruses.
The EDPB also urged that data minimization and data protection be inherently “carefully checked” by default – two other important legal principles that have been incorporated into the European General Data Protection Regulation, albeit with a certain amount of flexibility during a public health emergency.
However, the regulator was pragmatic about the debate between centralization and decentralization. Both approaches are "feasible" in the context of contact tracking, with the crucial limitation that "adequate security measures" must be taken.