Pragmatic bunch that they are, the Germans have gone with the only viable approach to developing a contact tracing app, while UK attempts to reinvent the wheel have predictably faltered.
Even the name is down-to-earth: the Corona-Warn-app warns you if you’ve been in contact with someone who may have been infected with coronavirus. “The app serves as a digital complement to distancing, hygiene and wearing masks. It uses Bluetooth technology and the Apple/Google Exposure Notification APIs,” says the Android app page, which has 18,000 reviews already, averaging at 4.6/5.
The reason Germany opted to go for the decentralized approach supported by the Google/Apple API was that its citizens aren’t too keen on being spied on by their government. “Tracking where a person is in real time, that does remind us of China and its surveillance system,” Frederick Richter of Foundation for Data Protection told AP, also noting Germany’s rich tradition of oppressive regimes. “That’s why we have always been very sensitive in Germany when it comes to the state collecting information on its citizens.”
Despite all this there still seems to be some hesitance about downloading the app in Germany, according to Reuters, but maybe there will be a snowball effect once a few intrepid punters give it a go. Either way the German government has given its contact tracing app the best possible chance of success.
The same can’t be said for the UK, where the digital team of the National Health Service reckons it knows better than the two companies that run the world’s smartphones. There was some kind of field trial of the NHS app in May, which yielded nothing of substance, and since then, nothing. Wired recently did its best to find out what’s going on, but to no avail.
This isn’t remotely surprising since rejecting the Google/Apple decentralized approach not only makes it inevitable that voluntary uptake will be low, thanks to privacy fears, but also means the app is denied full Bluetooth capabilities of the phone. It’s not clear what can be done to make the UK government see sense on this, maybe a celebrity banging on about it on social media would do the trick.