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Germany makes a U-turn over coronavirus tracking app

Germany has backtracked from a centralized digital contact tracing coronavirus app. The original plan was to collect data from users’ cellphones and store the data in a central repository.

The government has now abandoned that plan saying the system would only work if people trust that their privacy is being respected.

The centralised system would have enabled health officials to have greater access to information that could help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Privacy advocates however raised concerns that it would give the government access to so much personal information about citizens’ interactions.

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The German government has therefore opted for a decentralized approach. “This app should be voluntary, meet data protection standards and guarantee a high level of IT security,” Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a statement, according to Reuters. “The main epidemiological goal is to recognize and break chains of infection as soon as possible.”

Nearly 300 professors around the globe signed a letter warning of the potential consequences of unchecked automatic contact tracing.

“Solutions which allow reconstructing invasive information about the population should be rejected without further discussion. Such information can include the “social graph” of who someone has physically met over a period of time,” the professors said in their letter.

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They added: “With access to the social graph, a bad actor (state, private sector, or hacker) could spy on citizens’ real-world activities. Some countries are seeking to build systems which could enable them to access and process this social graph. On the other hand, highly decentralized systems have no distinct entity that can learn anything about the social graph. In such systems, matching between users who have the disease and those who do not is performed on the non-infected users’ phones as anonymously as possible, whilst information about non-infected users is not revealed at all,” the professors said.