A few free software developers have reached the point where official systems have been missing for months: they have provided the German Corona Alert app for tracking Covid 19 risk interactions in a fully functional version of Google without any dependencies. -Available in Store F-Droid.
In April of this year, the FSFE laid down two basic requirements for so-called corona applications. Firstly, there should be no obligation to use them, and secondly, they should be available as free software. At first glance, the German / Corona-Warn-of / (CWA), released in June, meets these requirements just like many in Europe. However, the transfer of device keys via Bluetooth, based on which the risk is calculated, is handled by a basic interface.
Problem with: This interface software, also known as the / exposure announcements API / and is mostly developed by Apple and Google, is mostly proprietary. So it cannot be used, read, spread or improved freely. Requires installation and use of Play Services on Google’s Android operating system. These Google services are deeply interfering with the computer and undermining the digital sovereignty of the users. By default, this prevents individuals who value data security and software freedom from using multiple corona applications on their Android devices.
Volunteers gradually solve problems
Marvin Wiefeld, a free software developer and FSFE supporter, made the first major improvement in September. He developed the expression notification function in Microji , Free software implementation of Google’s proprietary services. This means that at least people can use the various Corona apps with an Android phone that is not Google  Owned and installed by Microji.
A few days ago Christian Krikis, Finn Godaw, Marcus Hoffman and Marvin Wiefeld went one step further. They integrated exposure notification components directly from Microji into the German Corona warning application. This drop-in alternative allows CWAs to be used by individuals who do not have Google services installed, or even their free software replacement microSD. As of today, they have made the app exclusively available in the App Store F-Droid with free software. So it is also beneficial for users who have installed Microji or Google services, but prefer to get their software via F-Droid for security and convenience reasons.
Micro G lead developer and FSFE supporter Marvin Wiefeld adds:
The previous solution for establishing microgels is often questionable for a variety of reasons. For example, the new application, F-Droid, can run without any problems on all current Huawei smartphones, some of which have been offered since mid-2019 without Google services. With only Google and Apple users being targeted, the government and RKI may have lost thousands of users of the Corona Alert app in the past few months. “
Acceptance of changes in the major development branch is now up to the responsible organizations, the German Federal Government, Robert Koch Company (RKI) and their contractors SAP and D-Systems. , And integrating with the free software community. In principle, this method can also be applied to corona applications in other countries.
Free software again in a pioneering role
“We see a familiar pattern here: the free software community sets up a problem and a possible solution, but it will go away until volunteers solve it on their own unpaid effort and without official support. The resources of the administrations and organizations involved must not fail to make these significant improvements themselves or at least support them. It is commendable that CWA continued to be developed and released as free software from the beginning, but now lacks the sustainability needed to eliminate technically unnecessary proprietary software dependencies. “
FSFE urges governments and administrations to release developed software as free software, to break dependencies on Google and Apple’s utility stores, and instead install their applications through independent sources such as F – Droid, and to avoid preemptive copyright advances. As Wiefeld explains, the use of corona warning already has specific additional benefits in combating the infection:
“Free implementation – in the sense of free software – has the potential for improvements that Google’s proprietary interface does not allow. For example, an encounter alert can show the time of an encounter. If the user sends the data voluntarily – it can help health officials identify hotspots or clusters or use it for statistical purposes to increase the effectiveness of security measures. “
“We would like to thank everyone involved who was able to use the Corona app in Germany without accepting the loss of software freedom,” FSFE said.
About Free Software Foundation Europe
Free Software Foundation Europe is a non-profit organization that supports people in their use of self-determination technology. Software affects all areas of our lives. It is important that this technique helps us instead of controlling us. Free software gives everyone the right to use, understand, distribute and improve programs for any purpose. These freedoms reinforce other fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to privacy.
FSFE helps people and organizations understand how free software contributes to freedom, transparency and the right to self-determination. It strengthens user rights by removing barriers to the use of free software, encourages people to use and create free software, and provides resources for all those who wish to advance free software in Europe.