Germany flip-flops on contact-tracing tech, now embraces Apple’s approach

By

bluetooth-tracing
Apple and Google support a decentralized approach to contact-tracing.
Photo: Apple/Google

Germany has reportedly changed its mind over whether or not to embrace the decentralized approach to contact-tracing technology supported by Apple and Google.

As recently as the end of last week, Germany was backing a centralized standard technology called PEPP-PT. This stands for called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing. It has now seemingly switched its support to a “strongly decentralized” approach. This is the approach backed by Apple and Google.

A centralized approach to contact-tracing would mean that the anonymized proximity data about users is stored on a server controlled by an entity such as a healthcare service. The decentralized approach, meanwhile, means that information is stored locally on individual devices. It could be uploaded after a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, but only with the user’s permission.

Apple and Google’s approach to contact-tracing

It’s not clear whether technology that will be deployed in Germany is that which was developed by Apple and Google. However, a Reuters report Sunday noted that, “When Apple refused to budge there was no alternative but [for Germany] to change course, said a senior government source.” That suggests the country could adopt the API developed by the two tech titans to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Both Apple and Google have stressed the importance of protecting user data. Their new API is rumored to launch this week.

Centralized apps wouldn’t work on devices like the iPhone. This is because, in order for the necessary Bluetooth exchanges, the devices would have to be unlocked with the app running in the foreground. As Reuters notes, this would cause “a drain on the battery and an inconvenience” on the part of the user.

Last Monday, an open letter signed by hundreds of scientists argued against taking a centralized approach to contact-tracing. They argued that doing this would make possible “unprecedented surveillance” of society.

Germany flip-flops on contact-tracing tech, now supports approach championed by Apple