Why is a download pending

Download the Corona app : The federal warning app is available - questions remain

The federal government's official Corona warning app was made available for download early Tuesday. It could be downloaded from the Google App Store shortly after 2 a.m., and it was also available from Apple a little later. Users complained on social media of delays in the availability of the app as well as problems with downloading. In less than an hour, the starting difficulties seemed to be over.

Download links for the Corona warning app

The full functionality of the application is to be activated on Tuesday morning after a press conference by the federal government. The app is intended to enable the contact tracing of infected people and thereby shorten the chains of infection.

The official German warning app for the fight against the coronavirus is starting after weeks of preparation. Downloading the app should be voluntary for all citizens in order to facilitate the tracking of infections with the help of smartphones. The government is promoting widespread use and promises a high level of data protection. She rejected demands for a law. The doctors support the new app.

The President of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, told the German Press Agency: "This is a very useful instrument." The app makes it easy to identify chains of infection. “But it also makes it possible to take personal precautions - by being able to be tested in the event of a corresponding warning message.” Of course, the app only works if you can win as many people as possible to participate. "It would work even better if the system could be made viable across borders in Europe."

The app is to be presented in the morning by Chancellor Helge Braun (CDU), several ministers, the Robert Koch Institute and the contracted companies SAP and Telekom. It can measure whether cell phone users have come closer than about two meters to each other over a longer period of time. If a user has tested positive and has shared this in the app, it reports to other users that they were near an infected person. Contact data are not stored centrally - as initially planned - but only on the smartphones. The development costs amount to around 20 million euros.

"We're talking about fundamental rights here"

But while the Corona warning app can finally be used, doctors and health authorities are still puzzling over how to deal with the results and what need for advice and clarification actually exists. "In my life I cannot imagine that health authorities would order a test based on the app, for example," says Ute Teichert, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Doctors in the Public Health Service. "An app cannot be quarantined or justify a school or company closure - we're talking about fundamental rights here."

Rather, as usual, the authorities would have to ask the app users exactly where they were and whether they wore a face mask. Since the software only indicates a suspected individual risk, but for data protection reasons does not allow the actual contact persons and chains of infection to be traced, “in many cases we will have to start with the research from scratch”. "The reports in the app could mean that we could have some additional work," says the virologist and head of the Frankfurt health department, René Gottschalk.

It is also still unclear how different user groups will deal with the application in everyday life, whether they trust the app blindly and possibly neglect other protective measures - or whether they feel stressed by continued smartphone screening. "My impression is that the app can, for example, relieve mentally unstable people their fears because it promises security," says the Berlin psychiatrist and social medicine specialist Daniel Ketteler from the Medical School Berlin, who expressly welcomes the application. However, it is clear that it is partly a question of deceptive security and the app alone does not protect against infection.

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Health apps make use of the more highly educated

It is generally known that health apps are more likely to be used by better educated, digitally savvy people who shouldn't have any problems with the software. The case is different with socially disadvantaged groups, such as refugees, "who already have difficulty understanding what is happening and may not use the app or ignore a warning message for fear of stigmatization," says Ketteler.

The app - which will initially only be published in German and English and only later in other languages ​​such as Turkish - requires at least basic digital competence. If you want to release the result of a corona test in the app, you have to scan the QR code of the laboratory certificate with your smartphone or have an activation code sent to you via SMS via a Deutsche Telekom hotline. This is to prevent trolls from feeding the app with positive results just for fun.

In addition to such practical details, there are also fundamental ethical questions: Will people soon have to justify themselves if they don't use the app? What if children install the application without their parents' knowledge?

"I'm surprised that we didn't hear much about any of these points when we were preparing the app," says Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen. "You have to point out the weaknesses and limits of the warning app, we will need accompanying research, good advice for users and broad communication through many channels," says Zeeb.

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It is possible that an app effect can no longer be proven in view of the sharp decrease in the number of infections. "The app comes a little late," notes Gottschalk. What effect it could have if the epidemic grows again is difficult to say. A much-cited modeling study by the University of Oxford suggests that a new corona wave could be slowed down if 50 to 60 percent of the population used a warning app. Even lower rates would at least have a dampening effect.

However, the model is based on simplified assumptions - for example, that all users immediately isolate themselves in the event of warning messages and not on experiences with a real app in everyday reality. It is also important that people over 70 who are particularly at risk use a smartphone much less often than average. For technical reasons, the Corona warning app does not run on older cell phones.

In Switzerland, a similar app cost 1.7 million

There could still be discussions about the cost of the app. Around 20 million euros are due for the development of the app, according to government circles in Berlin. In addition, there are operating costs of 2.5 to 3.5 million euros per month. The majority of this is due to the operation of two hotlines at Deutsche Telekom.

The government is quite satisfied with this: The costs for the software development of the Corona Warning App of the Robert Koch Institute are at the lower end of the range forecast at the beginning of the "double-digit million amount". A government spokesman did not want to say on Monday how the 20 million will be divided between SAP and Telekom.

After the dispute over which concept the app should be developed, SAP and Telekom only had about six weeks. Many tests are necessary to develop the distance estimate via Bluetooth. According to expert assessments, extensive security tests are also likely to have been expensive. The example of the technically similar app in Switzerland shows that it can be cheaper: A service provider there received 1.8 million francs (1.7 million euros), but there is also the work of the leading universities in Lausanne and Zurich. In this country, the Fraunhofer Institute received 600,000 euros for an initial feasibility study alone.

The opposition has raised criticism of the high costs for the warning app: "The federal government is required to disclose the exact cost structure in detail," said the deputy leader of the FDP parliamentary group, Frank Sitta, to the Tagesspiegel. The Bundestag member Anke Domscheit-Berg (left) even speaks of a "hotline for printing money" and "rip-off": a 24-hour hotline is unnecessary, "nobody has to be able to report infected at four o'clock at night". These questions should already be asked on Wednesday in the Bundestag Committee on the Digital Agenda.

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