New functions for the German Corona warning app – continued voluntary use

by Thorsten Koch

Several politicians have called for the official Corona warning app to be more effective. As CDU health politician Sorge said, “alleged privacy concerns” have slowed down the app. In the future, the health authorities should have direct access. This opinion is not shared by everyone. But there are already concrete plans to implement some new functions.

The health policy spokeswoman for the CDU and CSU parliamentary group, Maag, sees the app as valuable in breaking chains of infection. Improvements would be implemented soon, she indicated. The use of the app must remain voluntary, Maag emphasized. Users would have to be able to decide for themselves whether they should enter a positive result. Previously, the Bavarian Prime Minister Söder (CSU) had indirectly called for the warning effect of the app to be strengthened. “Unfortunately, the app is a toothless tiger, so far,” Söder pointed out three weeks ago.

Additional functionality

According to press reports, several updates are being considered to encourage users to communicate positive test results. The fact that this doesn’t happen often enough at the moment is a weak point. A memory function, for example, should encourage, several times a day, to share a given test result anonymously.

SPD health expert Lauterbach also called for an upgrade with a view to the fact that only around 60 percent of users use the app to report a positive result. In addition, an information campaign would be useful, according to Lauterbach. It could help if the place, and date, of risk contact were shared on a voluntary basis, according to the politician. The manager of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Stark-Watzinger, thinks it is particularly important that the time of contact be recorded.

Determining the exact “place and time of the risk contact” is not in line with data protection, argued the network policy spokeswoman for the Left party faction, Domscheit-Berg. Data protection is one of the factors that favor the use of the app in the population, which is above average. Domscheit-Berg complained: “Too many medical practices neither ask about the Corona warning app, nor is the decisive cross placed on the laboratory slip for consent to the transmission of results via the app.”

The director of the Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft, Hüter, does not want to see data protection as a “holy cow”. He said there should be an obligation to put in positive results. The health authorities themselves are overloaded with tracking cases. Therefore, app tracking needs to be more effective, he said.

Green party opts for ‘cluster tracking’

The Greens suggested setting up ‘cluster tracking’ so that it could be seen where and in what situations people were infected. If this does not happen with the will and the consent of the users, this is “poison for the acceptance of the app”, according to the Green digital expert Jancek. According to her party colleague Klein-Schmeink, who is a spokeswoman for health policy, “voluntary usage and anonymity” have priority. Green interior politician von Notz questioned whether a new campaign was necessary. On the other hand, he explained: “In order to increase the number of users of the app, which is still urgently needed, we need one thing, above all: an attractive app and an information portal.” The AfD also rejected an information campaign.

The Minister of State for Digital, Bär (CSU), had emphasized in mid-October: “We prefer an app with high data protection than not having an app at all.” One had to strictly implement data protection. She also appealed for more information to the population.

The second week of November, figures from a Forsa survey were published, according to which 37 percent of German citizens could imagine an obligation to install the app. 58 percent so far decline this idea. While 53 percent do not support a relaxation of the data protection requirements for the app, 41 percent of those questioned support such a relaxation.

The warning app was developed by SAP and Deutsche Telekom. It is published by the Robert Koch Institute and is compatible with ten other European Corona warning apps. Users receive a warning from the German application when a risk encounter has taken place. In contrast, the app does not issue a warning for short encounters or when the distance is large.

Further plans for 2021

In the next year, users should be able to better assess when exactly an infection could have occurred, through the function of an encounter history. A so-called contact diary is also being considered. The Greens have requested that such a diary form should be filled in manually, not automatically. Thirdly, external services should be linked via a QR code when infection numbers are down, so that the user no longer has to fill out slips of paper with contact details, for example when visiting restaurants.

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