Germany changes its take on Apple and Google’s combined effort for developing a digital contact tracing system. It was backing a centralized standard known as Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT). This standard requires Apple to change its settings on iPhones but Apple stood its ground leading Germany to change its stance.
The duo wants to track and manage the spread of COVID-19 using a decentralized approach instead of a centralized system. Germany and France were disagreeing with the duo regarding the security aspect and data storage. Apple and Google are opting for a cross-platform system-level framework for contact tracing. However, it seems that one of the two countries have changed their stance.
Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement that Berlin will be adopting a decentralized approach. This implies that it will be letting go of the native alternative that would have given health authorities central control over the collected data.
Centralized System Vs. Decentralized System
European countries agree to rely on short-range Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ that happen between mobile devices. They believe that it is the best way of registering any possible contact despite the fact that it doesn’t provide location data. The ongoing debate is about how to record this data – on individual devices or a central server.
The decentralized approach allows users to opt for sharing their numbers or details of their symptoms. This enables health authorities to get in touch with the relevant persons and advise them. Consent must be given through the app instead of being a part of the central architecture of the system.
The duo is relying on a decentralized system approach that allows contacts to keep data on their devices. The data will remain on their devices up until someone tests positive for COVID-19 diagnosis. The data will only leave their device once the confirmation has been provided by the user.
Why Centralized Approach Won’t Work?
The centralized system approach is considered a security and privacy risk by experts. The experts are not in favor of uploading sensitive medical data on a single source. More importantly, they do not want to help build roads that would lead to state surveillance. Google and Apple are tackling this privacy concern remarkably.
Helge Braun says in an interview, ‘We will back a decentralized architecture that will only store contacts on devices. That is good for trust.’ It is still not clear if Germany will be opting for its system while relying on Apple and Google API for digital contact tracing. It also has the option of leaning towards Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (DP-3T). Switzerland, Estonia, and Austria are already relying on DP-3T.
DP-3T says that it is ‘very happy to see that Germany is adopting a decentralized approach to contact tracing and we look forward to its next steps implementing such a technique in a privacy-preserving manner.’