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<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<html newsdate="2020-12-08">
<title>German Corona tracing app available without Google services</title>
<h1>German Corona tracing app available without Google services</h1>
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 tracing Covid-19 risk contacts in a
version that is completely free of dependencies on Google and
available in F-Droid, the Free Software app store.
Already in April this year, the FSFE <a
href="/news/2020/news-20200402-02.html">formulated two fundamental
requirements for so-called Corona apps</a>. First, there must be no
obligation to use them, and second, they must be available as Free
Software. At first glance, the German <em>Corona Warn App</em> (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
alt="Screenshot of Corona Warn App" />
The problem is that this interface software, called <em>Exposure
Notifications API</em> 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 <a
href="/activities/android/">privacy and software freedom on their
Android devices</a>.
<h2>Volunteers solve problems step by step</h2>
A first major improvement was provided by Free Software developer and
FSFE supporter Marvin Wißfeld in September. He <a
href="">built the
exposure notification functionality into microG</a>, a Free Software
implementation of the proprietary Google services. This allows at
least people who own a <a href="/activities/android/">Google-free
Android phone</a> and have microG installed to use various Corona
alt="Screenshot of microG's Exposure Notification API" />
Free Software implementation of the underlying Exposure
Notification API in microG
A few days ago, Christian Grigis, Fynn Godau, Marcus Hoffmann and
Marvin Wißfeld went one step further. They <a
the exposure notification component of microG directly into the
German Corona Warn App</a>. 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 <a
href="">making the app
available on F-Droid</a>, 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 <a
the changes into the main development branch</a>, and thus to pull
together with the Free Software community. In addition, this method
can in principle be used for Corona apps in other countries.
<h2>Free Software once again in a pioneering role</h2>
We see a familiar pattern here: the Free Software community <a
a problem and a possible solution</a>, but is <a
away</a> 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 the process lacked the
necessary consistency to remove technically and meanwhile unnecessary
dependencies on proprietary software.
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.
<tag key="front-page"/>
<tag key="de">Germany</tag>
<tag key="fya">Android</tag>
<tag key="corona">Corona</tag>
<discussion href=""/>
<image url="" alt="Screenshot of Corona Warn App"/>