Germany changed course this weekend over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to trace coronavirus infections, backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries, according to Reuters. However, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) will utilize its own centralized contract-tracing system, rather than deploying the exposure notification technology being developed by the tech giants.
Germany’s Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement that Berlin would adopt a “decentralized” approach to digital contact tracing, thus abandoning a home-grown alternative that would have given health authorities central control over tracing data. As recently as Friday, Germany backed a centralized standard called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), which would have needed Apple in particular to change the settings on its iPhones. When the tech giant refused to budge there was no alternative but to change course, a senior government source told Reuters.
Meanwhile, UK’s coronavirus contact-tracing app is set to use a different model to the one proposed by Apple and Google, despite concerns raised about privacy and performance, reports the BBC News. The NHS says it has a way to make the software work “sufficiently well” on iPhones without users having to keep it active and on-screen.
On April 10, Apple and Google announced a joint effort to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19. They’ll launch a solution that includes APIs and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.
First, in May, both companies will release application programming interfaces [APIs] that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores. Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.