[FSFE PR][EN] German Corona tracing app available without Google services

press at fsfe.org press at fsfe.org
Tue Dec 8 08:23:36 UTC 2020

 = German Corona tracing app available without Google services =

[ Read online: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20201208-01.en.html ]

A handful of Free Software developers today achieved what official
bodies have been missing for months: They have made available the German
Corona Warn App for tracking Covid-19 risk contacts in a version that is
completely free of dependencies on Google and available in the F-Droid,
the Free Software app store.

Already in April this year, the FSFE formulated two fundamental
requirements for so-called Corona apps [1]. First, there must be no
obligation to use them, and second, they must be available as Free
Software. At first glance, the German /Corona Warn App/ (CWA) published
in June, meets these criteria, like many others in Europe by now.
However, the exchange of device keys via Bluetooth, on the basis of
which the risk is calculated, is handled by an underlying interface.

The problem is that this interface software, called /Exposure
Notifications API/ and significantly developed by Apple and Google, is
largely proprietary. This means it cannot be freely used, investigated,
distributed and improved. In Google's Android operating system it is
also necessary to install and use the Play Services. These Google
services intervene deeply in the system and undermine the digital
sovereignty of the users. By default, this prevents the use of many
Corona apps for people who value privacy and software freedom on their
Android devices [2].

 == Volunteers solve problems step by step ==

A first major improvement was provided by Free Software developer and
FSFE supporter Marvin Wißfeld in September. He built the exposure
notification functionality into microG [3], a Free Software
implementation of the proprietary Google services. This allows at least
people who own a Google-free Android phone [4] and have microG installed
to use various Corona apps.

A few days ago, Christian Grigis, Fynn Godau, Marcus Hoffmann and Marvin
Wißfeld went one step further. They integrated the exposure notification
component of microG directly into the German Corona Warn App [5]. This
so-called Drop-In-Replacement enables even people who have neither the
Google services nor their Free Software alternative microG installed, to
use the CWA. In addition, as of today they are making the app available
on F-Droid [6], an app store with exclusively Free Software. This is
therefore also advantageous for those users who have installed microG or
Google services, but prefer to obtain their software via F-Droid for
security and convenience reasons.

microG main developer and FSFE supporter Marvin Wißfeld adds:

    "The previous solution of installing microG is often out of the
    question for various reasons. But the new app from F-Droid,can also
    be run without problems on all current smartphones from, for
    example, Huawei some of which have been delivered without Google
    services since mid-2019. The German government and the RKI may have
    lost thousands of users of the Corona Warn App in recent months, as
    only Google and Apple users were targeted."

It is now up to the responsible bodies, the German government, the
Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and their contractors SAP and T-Systems, to
incorporate the changes into the main development branch [7], and thus
to pull together with the Free Software community. In addition, this
method can in principle also be used for Corona apps in other countries.

 == Free Software once again in a pioneering role ==

We see a familiar pattern here: the Free Software community presents a
problem and a possible solution [8], but is turned away [9] until
volunteers solve the problem themselves with unpaid work and without
official support. In this case, the resources of the authorties and
companies involved would have easily sufficed to make these significant
improvements themselves, or at least to support them. It is laudable
that the CWA was consistently developed and published as Free Software
from the very beginning, but it lacked the necessary consistency to
remove technically and meanwhile unnecessary dependencies on proprietary

The FSFE appeals to governments and administrations to publish developed
software as Free Software, to break dependencies on Google's and Apple's
app stores and instead make their apps installable from independent
sources like F-Droid, and to renounce proprietary dependencies. As
Wißfeld explains, the Corona Warn App already offers concrete additional
advantages in the fight against the pandemic:

    "The free implementation has the potential - in the spirit of Free
    Software - for improvements that Google's proprietary interface does
    not allow. For example, it would be possible to display the time of
    a high risk encounter. This could - if the user voluntarily provides
    the data - help public health authorities to identify hotspots or
    clusters, or be used for statistical purposes to increase the
    effectiveness of protective measures."

We would like to thank all persons involved who made the use of the
Corona App in Germany possible without having to accept any loss of
software freedom.

Discuss this [10]

  1: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20200402-02.en.html
  2: https://fsfe.org/activities/android/index.en.html
  3: https://mastodon.social/@larma/104630652216622243
  4: https://fsfe.org/activities/android/index.en.html
  5: https://codeberg.org/corona-contact-tracing-germany/cwa-android
  6: https://f-droid.org/packages/de.corona.tracing/
  7: https://github.com/corona-warn-app/cwa-app-android/issues/1483#issuecomment-734491614
  8: https://github.com/corona-warn-app/cwa-documentation/issues/5
  9: https://github.com/corona-warn-app/cwa-documentation/issues/5#issuecomment-627848335
 10: https://community.fsfe.org/t/552

  == About the Free Software Foundation Europe ==

  Free Software Foundation Europe is a charity that empowers users to
  control technology. Software is deeply involved in all aspects of our
  lives; and it is important that this technology empowers rather than
  restricts us. Free Software gives everybody the rights to use,
  understand, adapt and share software. These rights help support other
  fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, press and privacy.

  The FSFE helps individuals and organisations to understand how Free
  Software contributes to freedom, transparency, and self-determination.
  It enhances users' rights by abolishing barriers to Free Software
  adoption, encourage people to use and develop Free Software, and
  provide resources to enable everyone to further promote Free Software
  in Europe.


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