The picture that the rapper Smudo drew of the “Fantastischen Vier” on Sunday at Anne Will’s was tempting. A world, still pandemic, but, and that was probably the most important thing for the majority of the audience: a world in which there is more freedom than now. In the world of the musician Smudo, freedom looks like this: Instead of a Fanta4 concert with 500 people and distance rules in the park, you might soon be able to go to a concert with 2500 people and less distance. Because the tracking of contacts supposedly works better – thanks to the app that Smudo helped develop. Her name is “Luca”.
The principle of the Luca app is simple: when people enter a place, the operators scan a QR code on the Luca user’s phone. They have previously registered in the app with their telephone number and contact details. Once the code has been scanned, your data is automatically – and encrypted – saved in the host’s system. Only the respective health department has access in the event of an infection that becomes known later. A quick scan with the mobile phone replaces the annoying filling out of contact lists.
The real highlight, however, is the cluster detection and the automation of contact by the health authorities, says Patrick Henning. His company Nexenio developed the app together with the musicians of the Fantastischen Vier. Bundesdruckerei and the Hasso Plattner Institute are also partners. The Luca system, says Henning, can recognize whether it is a single infection or an infection cluster and send warnings accordingly.
An app as a super spreader radar
Such QR code scans are not only conceivable in bars and shops, but also in subway cars or buses. Restaurant owners can provide additional information such as a table number. If a guest later tests positive, guests sitting nearby can be automatically warned. That would actually be an improvement. The manual contact lists are notoriously incomplete, illegible, and many guests give themselves fantasy names like Max Mustermann. Health department employees also have to manually telephone all the people on the lists. This often takes too long to effectively break chains of infection, especially when so-called super-spreaders are the trigger that infect many people in one fell swoop.
The federal government’s Corona Warn App (CWA) actually works on a similar principle, with the difference that nobody has to scan codes, people’s cell phones automatically communicate with each other via Bluetooth. The users remain completely anonymous. The federal government and the participating companies SAP and Telekom uphold data protection. That contributes to the acceptance, more than 25 million Germans have downloaded it. However, it means greater responsibility for individual infected people. You have to report your positive result in the app yourself so that others are warned. And still too few do that. In addition, even with 25 million downloads, it is unlikely that everyone who sat with someone infected in a café had installed the federal warning app.
Check-in apps such as “may be clean”, “vida” or “Luca” have an advantage over this: café owners or concert organizers could make them standard after reopening. Anyone who is not scanned (or alternatively fills out a slip of paper) is not allowed in – house rights. Such a regulation would mean that superspreader events in cafés, for example, would not only be recorded comparatively quickly, but also completely. The connection to the health department would mean that in the event of an infection, the department itself would be able to carry out the comparison with the data in the apps.
In practice it would look like this: A laboratory reports a positive test to the health department. This reports to the infected person and asks about the contacts of the past few days. The person concerned can now either allow the office to access their Luca data via TAN. Even if he does not want to share the data, the offices’ work becomes easier. If the infected person states that they have been in Bar A, the bar can also grant the office access to the Luca data and all other guests are automatically warned by SMS.
Health department sends warning SMS
Similar to the CWA of the federal government, with “Luca” it will also depend on how many people use it consistently. Because there is still room for improvement. So far, the app has only had a few model projects on North Sea islands such as Sylt, where almost all shops and restaurants take part. With 200 of the 300 health authorities in the republic, they are now in more or less permanent contact, says Luca boss Henning. Since App Ambassador Smudo appeared on the ARD talk show, at least the downloads have risen rapidly, with a total of 516,000 people downloading the app.
This is remarkable, but no comparison to the 25 million downloads of the official Corona warning app. Wouldn’t it therefore be better to integrate such a function into the federal app? The Ministry of Health takes a different view. A spokesman for the SZ wrote that applications like Luca, which saved personal data, were “a useful addition to the anonymous CWA”. Money for such projects would be available to the countries “from the funds of the Pact for the Public Health Service”.
The anonymity of the CWA is one of the main reasons for the success of the app, the ministry said. Therefore, one wants to maintain the strict data protection in any case. Nevertheless, they are working on an update for the event registration, which will still be anonymous. It should be available “shortly after Easter”.