The smartphone should become the most essential navigator through the Coronavirus outbreak areas. Entrepreneur Mathias Reidl promises an alternative to the shutdown: An app is to identify all streets and areas where there is no longer any danger of infection. If the data protectors join in.

The letter to Peter Altmaier and Jens Spahn begins with an urgent appeal. “The current shutdown is putting a strain on our economy and is bringing small and medium-sized companies in particular to the brink of what we can cope with,” Entrepreneur Mathias Reidel e-mailed the two responsible federal ministers last night at 9:59 pm. “We urgently need to find a way to get back on track quickly.” The former Microsoft manager, who has worked as a business developer for various start-ups in recent years, offers his help with an unconventional idea. However, this is likely to make data protectionists sweat a lot.

Reidel wants to make the smartphone the most essential navigator through the Coronavirus areas. He doesn’t want to just sit around and wait to see what happens, but actively seek solutions, he says. His idea was only born on the evening of 24 March in a Facebook chat. The very next morning, Reidel began convincing potential cooperation partners – and started the joint initiative with the Munich startup Open as App, several developers of open source software and former Microsoft colleagues – with the ambitious goal of building a nationwide Coronavirus recognition app for all smartphones within 48 hours “for a good cause and on a voluntary basis“.

In the meantime, the product is almost ready for the market, and test versions can be downloaded from the web. The only thing missing is a precise visualization based on city and street maps, which is to be completed by tomorrow. “At the moment, there are case numbers of coronavirus infections only per federal state or district,” says Reidel. Telekom and the Robert Koch Institute are already evaluating anonymous transaction data, but not across the board. “The Mayor of a city like Tübingen does not know how the coronavirus cases are distributed in his city area.” His new “Covid-19 Tracking App” wants to close this gap.

In real-time, it is intended to record the actual cases of a street, a place or a region, and determine – as Reidel puts it – “where so-called cohorts have formed“. The authorities could then tighten restrictions there. In areas with a low risk of infection, they could also lift such restrictions within a short time. “It’s all about the smallest cell, and thus also about the county and thus also the state,” says Reidel. This is possible because the users themselves enter their current health status (“from healthy to tested positive”) into the app. The app evaluates the recorded data with the respective locations and can create progression curves and forecasts. A traffic light with the three colors green, yellow, and red classifies all zones according to the threat situation. Users can then zoom in comparatively precisely on which streets or blocks of houses there is a risk of infection and where not. Although the data does not allow for the identification of individual persons, conclusions about individual street sections or even houses would, in principle, be technically possible.

The goal is a very dynamic heat map that is updated continuously. “Our app should help to find places and streets where the authorities can reverse the movement restrictions.” As soon as the app has proven its functionality in Germany, the initiators want to export their idea to other countries.

But the Federal Data Protection Commissioner still has to give his consent to the Coronavirus app. Yesterday evening, Reidel informed Ulrich Kelber about the main features of his project. Now he is eagerly awaiting his answer. “We attach great importance to a legal and data protection examination to make our solution and the evaluation conform to fundamental rights“, promises Reidel.

Jürgen Berke
Editor Company & Markets

This article was originally published on 27.03.2020 on the website of the popular business magazine Wirtschaftswoche. Open as App is happy to collaborate in this effort that will help people stay safe and coronavirus-free, as well as anything that helps all medical personnel and government officials to successfully battle this outbreak.

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