Germany’s coronavirus app for tracking infections wasn’t working properly for up to five weeks due to an issue affecting millions of Samsung and Huawei devices, the mass-market Bild daily reported Friday.
According to the newspaper, that meant some users weren’t sent an alert if they had come into contact with the virus. It is not clear how many users were affected.
In a statement on its website, the Health Ministry confirmed that some Android operating systems blocked the app from running in the background in order to save power and that the issue had been fixed.
“There was indeed a problem with earlier versions of the Corona-Warn-App in terms of background updates on Android devices,” a spokesman for the SAP software company, which worked with the German government to develop the app, told Bild.
App provider, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, also told the newspaper that “automatic synchronization in the background was disabled by some Android smartphones.”
The app works by exchanging anonymous codes with other smartphone users who come within 2 meters (6.5 feet) for a period of 15 minutes or longer. When someone notifies the app they have tested positive for COVID-19, a notification is sent to those who have been in that individual’s vicinity.
Those codes are swapped whether or not the app is running in the background. But if the background update function is disabled, notifications about a potential infection risk cannot be sent out. Affected users would then only be warned if they open the app.
Call for transparency
The center-left SDP’s spokesperson for digital policy, Jens Zimmermann, called for “a swift explanation” from Health Minister Jens Spahn.
“It is more than annoying that the responsible politicians are hearing about this matter from the media,” he told Reuters news agency. “I would have liked to see open communication from the Health Ministry,” he added.
In its statement, the ministry stressed that the problem was with Android settings, which can impact any app. It said the problem had been solved with a new version of the app released on Wednesday.
The RKI reported in mid-July that the voluntary tracing app had been downloaded around 16 million times since its launch in mid-June.
German authorities are hoping the tool will help better trace the virus and break chains of infection as cities lift restrictions and return to normal life.
Germany has so far registered more than 204,000 coronavirus infections and 9,111 deaths.
nm/mm (Reuters, AFP)