Backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries, Germany changed course on Sunday over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to attempt a COVID-19 contact tracing architecture, ditching its plan for a centralized system.
Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Berlin would adopt a ‘decentralized’ approach to digital contact tracing, in so doing abandoning a home-grown alternative.
Nations are rushing to develop apps to assess at scale the risk of catching COVID-19, where the chain of infection is proving hard to break because the flu-like disease can be spread by those showing no symptoms…
Germany as recently as Friday backed an initiative called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), whose centralized approach was criticized by hundreds of scientists in an open letter last Monday as opening the way to state surveillance. “We will back a decentralized architecture that will only store contacts on devices. That is good for trust,” Braun told ARD public television in an interview.
Although Bluetooth-based smartphone contact tracing is an untested technology and early results in countries like Singapore are modest, its development is already redefining the relationship between the state and individual.
Germany’s change of tack would bring its approach into line with that taken by Apple and Alphabet’s Google, which said this month they would develop new tools to support decentralized contact tracing.
Importantly, Apple’s iPhone would under the proposed setup only work properly with decentralized protocols such as DP-3T, which has been developed by a Swiss-led team and has been backed by Switzerland, Austria and Estonia.
MacDailyNews Take: Again, it’s not going to work anyway, but at least let’s attempt to preserve privacy while we hand out contact tracing apps like pacifiers.
Contact tracing apps are nothing more than pablum for the masses: “Want to feel safe while getting back to work, shopping, going out to eat, vacationing, etc.? There’s an app for that.”
Apple and Google are very likely taking the lead on this thing because they want to be out front of myriad privacy issues, not letting governments proven to overreach and which love centralized programs dictate the direction of contact tracing.
Even Singapore, where citizens follow the rules, has a COVID-19 contact tracing app which has been installed by just 12% of the population). That’s at least 48% short of the lowest threshold for “digital herd immunity.” In Singapore, no less.
No matter how well-designed the system is on paper, in practice too few people will install and use it*, while reliance on Bluetooth connectivity (range, materials penetrance, public transport, etc.) will result in myriad false positive issues.
This seems like something designed to provide a digital security blanket to help increase confidence for going back to work more than anything else.
*In the U.S., beyond the obvious constitutional rights issues, 18% of the U.S. population, or nearly 1-in-5 people, do not even have a smartphone. So, with one of every 5th person roaming about by default, not to mention all of the opt-outs, contact tracing via iOS and Android smartphones would be more of a feel-good security blanket than a useful, working system.