Germany has just launched its corona warning app. We at Bayer fully support this application and encourage our employees to use it - entirely voluntary, of course. The app will help protect our loved ones and fellow citizens. It will help us get back to normal life faster by breaking the chain of infection.
The app issues a retrospective warning to users who have been in contact with another app user who has tested positive for coronavirus. It does not reveal who this person was or where and when exactly the contact took place. The software uses a special Bluetooth technology (Bluetooth Low Energy, BLE) to detect other smartphones in the vicinity that also have the app installed. The devices then exchange anonymized encrypted data about the duration and physical distance of their encounter. The location of the contact is not transmitted. An algorithm serves as a measure of whether the time and distance would be sufficient for an infection. If this is the case, the relevant encounters are stored locally on the device for a certain amount of time. If a user later tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, he or she can voluntarily indicate this in the app. Once the test result has been confirmed, all relevant contacts receive a warning on their smartphone.
The app is a very tangible example of how digital technologies can help fight diseases. Technology should never be an end in itself, but rather serve a greater cause. And what greater cause could there be than to save lives? We at Bayer want to leverage data and technology to fulfill our vision of “health for all, hunger for none”. This is the reason we support this app.
There are different views on how security and the protection of health on the one hand and data privacy on the other should be balanced. This explains why we are seeing different applications across the globe pursuing similar goals. Asian countries were faster in developing apps to track or trace the spread of the pandemic. But they do not have Europe’s high standards of data privacy, which are crucial for European citizens’ trust in technology. At the same time, this pandemic knows no national borders and is a global threat to all of us. We need to work on harmonized solutions and make sure that the warning app also works across borders - at least in countries that share a legislative framework like the EU does with its General Data Protection Regulation.
In my view, this crisis can have two positive effects. It can lead to us collaborating more closely and better caring for one another, both on a personal and an international level. In addition it can accelerate the digital transformation of our societies, when people experience that technology can make their lives better.