The German government launched its Corona Warning App on 16 June. By 3 July the App was 14.6 million times downloaded.
This is a good start, but more downloads should follow to increase the effectiveness of the App as its usage is voluntary. The current situation is paradoxical. The low infection rates will lead to low warning and people might think the App is not worth it. However, it is precisely when the pandemic is under control that the App is particularly effective as health authorities would not be overwhelmed.
The App works with Bluetooth connections and follows high privacy standards. For instance, it does not identify users, there are no location data, and whether to notify an infection is voluntarily. These privacy settings limit its epidemiological and public health usefulness, and this on purpose. The discussion in Germany was about maximising privacy. The question what is best from a health policy point of view came second. For instance, mandatory (i.e. centralised) notification of infections whilst still preserving anonymity would ensure a more complete exposure tracing.
This is something difficult to understand. Germans hand out their private data to US social media platforms but do not trust their own health authorities that are fighting a deadly pandemic. When Germany opens restaurants, they obliged customers to fill in paper sheets with their private contact data, open to everyone to see, and with no verification. Thus, either it violates privacy or is inefficient as the data are not correct.
The App does not integrate with a back office, which would dramatically enhance its usefulness. For instance, the health authorities cannot send a notification to the Apps of an infected person but people must call a hotline to find out the result of their tests.
Another point is the missing European integration of the various Apps. For instance, the German App would not recognise a positive corona test by the Belgian authorities.
Going forward, whilst the App is not a panacea, it is an essential tool to avoid a second wave. Therefore, let’s hope that more people will use it and that policy makers add a European solution.