Status: 04/07/2021 6:34 p.m.
The Luca app is considered a beacon of hope for tracking contacts. But critical voices are piling up: these are false check-ins and legal concerns. Competitors feel left out.
By Christian Kretschmer,
Much must have been done at the Osnabrück Zoo on Wednesday night. As can be read on Twitter, more than 100 users are said to have checked in at the zoo, which is actually closed, via the Luca app – from home. All he needed was a photo of the QR code from the zoo entrance, which anyone can read with the Luca app.
Luca’s real goal: Registering visitors, whether at zoos or restaurants, needs to be digitized and linked to health authorities. Twitter’s drawers want to show that the app’s operating principle is prone to errors if several people gather on social media.
“We updated the zoo and exchanged the QR code,” says Luca CEO Patrick Hennig. Nothing could be changed about the “attempts at manipulation”. “But these are again deliberate false statements,” says Hennig. He does not understand this. “The pandemic is something you have to work on collectively.” Its implementation is considered a great hope in politics to make reopening possible.
Fear of overloading health authorities
The application is already used in some federal states, mainly in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. More than a dozen federal states have already announced they want to use Luca. To this end, interfaces are currently being established between enforcement and health authorities in the Rhineland-Palatinate, for example.
The application aims to give authorities a decisive advantage: if an infection is detected in a restaurant, for example, the health department receives the data of other visitors who are present through Luca. This should end the sorting of paper lists in order to locate the contact chains.
However, critics fear that Luca will continue to overload the health authorities. The fear: Will health authorities be flooded with endless digital contact lists in the future?
“We do not have more time”
Anke Domscheit-Berg, a Bundestag member and network activist, sees this problem. No funny check-ins are required through social media, he says. If, for example, an infection occurred in huge parks, the health authorities would be shocked by the data of many visitors who had checked in at the same time. “What should the health authorities do with such a mass of data?”
Health authorities could check at any time if a data query after an infection would make sense, Hennig said. This would make sense in a big event, for example, if enough infection became known there.
Ute Teichert, president of the Federal Association of Physicians in the Public Health Service, sees it similarly. “Luca is working and the health authorities urgently need such a tool,” he says. The application saves working time of the health authorities, especially when the incidents are high. Discussions about implementation are currently inappropriate. “We have no more time,” says Teichert.
A decentralized storage test is required
Data protectors are also pushing for the use of digital tools to track contacts. The principle by which Luca operates is very good, says Rhineland-Palatinate data protection officer Dieter Kugelmann, opposite the SWR.
The data protection conference, the body of the German data protection authorities, came to a similar conclusion. At the same time, however, data protectors criticize the fact that user data is stored in a central location in Luca. “Unauthorized access to this large amount of data can, depending on the scope, lead to serious harm to the individual and the community,” they write.
Luca, on the other hand, says “to use decentralized structures where possible” and emphasizes data encryption. Only health authorities could decrypt the data.
Assignment process under review
Meanwhile, a legal dispute prevails behind such questions about technology. Because many of Luca’s competitors feel betrayed by politics. At the heart of the criticism is that there was no open bidding process by the federal states, as investigated by Zeit Online. “This was very unusual,” said politician Domscheit-Berg. There was virtually no market research. However, antitrust law and public procurement should also apply in pandemic times.
“I wrote early in many federal states and pointed out that a bidding process would be necessary,” says Robel Haile. Manages the Vida check-in application, which has been on the market since April 2020. No response received. But: The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is currently checking whether the award in Luca was legal because Haile had applied for it.
Iris or is it Luke?
Other competitors also believe that they have been eliminated and want to take similar steps. “We are currently considering a lawsuit against the procurement process,” said Burkhard Hau, chief executive of Intrada. “We just want fair competition.”
Together with other providers, Intrada supports an open interface to health authorities. If necessary, health authorities could access data from different providers, for example Vida or Intrada – depending on the application using an event location. The idea of such an open system was developed by the “Public Health Innovation Association” under the name “Iris”.
Course change in Thuringia
“In our view, Iris would be a good solution,” said a spokesman for the finance ministry in Thuringia. Therefore, the ministry announces a tender for an open system for the state. Like many others, the country used to want to buy Luca as the central solution – but then changed its mind. “We see problems with public procurement legislation if you only commit to one provider,” she said.
Luca’s competitors should be happy with the change of course in Thuringia. It remains to be seen whether other federal states will follow. But you could expose yourself to another critique: excessive bureaucracy in fighting pandemics. And that the introduction of a tracking application for a deferred bid could possibly be delayed for months.