Corona tracking: how contact tracing apps work, what to think about them

To curb the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and to enable people to go about their everyday life again, Apple and Google have joined forces to anchor the infrastructure for so-called contact tracing apps in their mobile operating systems. With the help of the digital age, contact tracing apps are designed to support health authorities in what they have always been doing to prevent the spread of contagious diseases: If a patient is diagnosed with a notifiable disease, health authorities try to find out who the patient is with and when Had contact. These people are then warned that they may be infected and may be asked to quarantine.

In addition to the Google and Apple approach, which are directly anchored in the smartphone system, there are also the DP3T and PEPP-PT projects – with the latter in particular, some differences have emerged between the parties in recent days. The main question is whether a decentralized approach with storage of the collected data on the smartphones of the property or a solution with a central server is preferred.

In order to have contact tracing run automatically on a larger scale, some technical sophistication is required, especially if you want to implement the whole thing in accordance with European data protection standards. Parts of this technology have been completely redeveloped in recent weeks. The method on which Apple and Google are working largely coincides with the proposals of the Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing Protocol (DP3T) project, which was developed by an independent group of European researchers and[whoseexamplesourcecodehasbeenthesubjectoflivelydiscussiononthedevelopmentplatformGitHubforsometime[dessenBeispiel-QuellcodebereitsseiteinigerZeitaufderEntwicklungsplattformGitHubregediskutiertwird

Apple, Google and the international research community behind DP3T make this effort so that the governments of various states do not make it too easy for themselves and implement the simplest way of contact tracing: The user’s smartphone records all of its movements via GPS and transmits them to a central one Server under state control. An absolute horror scenario that must be prevented at all costs. After all, once a state has this kind of control over its citizens, it is unlikely that it will be given back voluntarily. Historians in this perpetuation of emergency laws recognize a recurring problem of modern state structures.

In the following we describe Apple and Google’s proposal for the implementation of a contact tracing system, which due to the market dominance of Android and iOS devices, this has the greatest chance of asserting itself across Europe. However, these are not apps, but rather an API of the respective operating system, which in turn can then be used by apps from the health authorities in different countries. A German Corona app could later build on this infrastructure, for example.

At the end of 2019, a new disease began to develop in China, the lung disease COVID-19 triggered by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Quarantine measures to contain the virus lead to production downtimes and increasingly serious consequences for the economy and everyday life.

The aim is to develop a system that can warn potential contacts of infected people so that they can quarantine themselves and cut the virus infection chain. This is to prevent further infections. However, this should be achieved without the participants in this system being able to identify each other. Above all, nobody should be able to draw any conclusions about who is infected. And it is to be prevented that any of the parties, especially the state, can use the tracing data to reconstruct a social graph of the movements of the participants in the system.


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