To this end, the RKI presented the “Corona Data Donation” app on Tuesday, which can access data from the devices. The use of the app is voluntary, emphasized the RKI.
The RKI wants to take advantage of the fact that smartwatches and fitness wristbands can record, among other things, the resting heart rate as well as information about the sleep and the level of activity of their users.
“In the case of acute respiratory disease, these vital signs change significantly in most cases. This means that typical Covid 19 symptoms such as fever can be recognized using the app, ”explained the institute.
The RKI therefore calls on users to share data from their smartwatches and fitness trackers. The most important questions and answers about the new Corona data donation app:
What is the purpose of the RKI with the app?
The data is intended to provide the Robert Koch Institute with additional information on the spread of the coronavirus so that scientists can better predict and contain the spread of infections. Algorithms can use this data to identify various symptoms that are also associated with a coronavirus infection, such as respiratory rate or pulse.
These are processed in model calculations that reflect their change over time. They are prepared geographically and should provide information about possible future hotspots before they can be reflected in positive test results.
How do scientists rate the benefits of the app?
The data can help “to drastically reduce the number of infected people,” says RKI expert and Professor Dirk Brockmann from Berlin’s Humboldt University. All this information “is incredibly valuable for epidemiologists and helps to derive better measures”. In the past, a similar app in the United States helped a lot to better understand the course of flu epidemics, said RKI boss Lothar Wieler when introducing the application.
Can infection chains be tracked with the app?
No. The app does not warn of detected corona symptoms. It does not give users feedback on the data collected. The data donation app is also not used to track contact persons. However, the RKI emphasizes that it should help to better understand the focus of infection.
Another app is under discussion in Germany and other European countries, which is supposed to trace the distribution of coronaviruses. The aim is to register who was near infected people and who could have been infected. According to previous plans, Bluetooth radio signals are to be used for this.
How does the data donation app work, how do you install it?
“Help with just a few clicks!”, The RKI advertises the application. In fact, users can transmit or “donate” their data with little effort, as the institute puts it. The installation takes place via the app stores of the various providers.
Who can use the app?
All people who either have a smartphone and a fitness bracelet or a smartwatch.
The end devices are available from different manufacturers. Does the app work on all platforms?
There are currently restrictions that are related to the infrastructure of manufacturers and suppliers of fitness wristbands and smartwatches. In order to share their data, users have to connect their fitness bracelet and smartwatch accounts to the Corona data donation app. With some providers – among others Google Fit – this is currently not possible.
The RKI is in discussion with the manufacturers to resolve the problem as soon as possible and asks for patience. All devices connected via Google Fit and Apple Health as well as Fitbit devices, Garmin, Polar and Withings / Nokia supported. The integration of other manufacturers is in progress.
What data does the app collect?
The app automatically and manually records activities of the fitness armband, such as cycling or running, sleeping and sleeping phases, activities such as walking and rest periods. Vital data such as pulse, heart rate variability, stress, temperature, weight and blood pressure are used.
In addition, there are socio-demographic data such as age, height, weight and gender, insofar as the user has entered them. The postal code is also required so that the regional spread of the virus can be mapped.
What happens to the data?
The technological service provider for the app is Thryve (mHealth Pioneers GmbH), a company specializing in digital health. This provides the anonymous data that the experts at RKI and HU Berlin process in their model calculations.
Does the app meet data protection requirements?
From the RKI’s point of view, yes. The data protection officer at the Robert Koch Institute has checked and approved the Corona data donation app. The app is not anonymous, but pseudonymous, explains the institute. Nevertheless, “at no time” you have knowledge of personal information such as the address or the name of the user. Otherwise, the pseudonymized data would only be transmitted via secure TLS / SSL-encrypted interfaces.
What does the Federal Data Protection Commissioner say about the app?
The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI), Ulrich Kelber, acted as an advisor. His authority has not yet received a completed version of the app. Basically, as he says, Kelber believes that the application can be implemented in compliance with data protection regulations.
To do this, users must be “clearly and contradictively informed about which data the app collects for what purpose”. In addition, the RKI still has to specify how long the data will be stored. “I also expect that the app will be evaluated regularly to see whether it is working,” emphasizes Kelber. “If it does not, processing must be ended.”
How should fitness bracelets and smartwatches be classified under data protection law?
The data protection officer Kelber points out that the level of data protection for fitness trackers and smartwatches varies greatly depending on the manufacturer. “This interface is probably the biggest problem from a data protection perspective,” he says.
Why are IT security experts warning about the RKI app?
The software collects highly sensitive data on the state of health of the users – which is why the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) requires that computer experts can check the source code: “The complete source code for the app and infrastructure must be available free and without access restrictions in order to be able to conduct audits by all interested parties enable”, demands the association in a list with “test stones”.
This corresponds to the open source principle: Anyone who is familiar with it can understand how software works and can check both how it handles data and its security mechanisms. In the best case, this serves quality and creates trust. However, the source code of the data donation app, which the start-up Thryve wrote on behalf of the RKI, is not disclosed. According to the criteria of the CCC, users are therefore advised not to use the software.
More: “Not expedient” – Read here why health experts criticize the German government’s Corona course.