ITWC Morning Briefing, July 20, 2020 – Talking contact tracing apps with SAP

To keep up with the firehose of news and press releases, we’ve decided to deliver some extra news to you on the side every Monday and Thursday morning. Some of it is an extension of our own reporting that didn’t make its way into a story, while others might be content we’ve bookmarked for later reading and thought of sharing with you. We’re doing a similar thing at Channel Daily News – check it out here. You can also view last week’s ITWC Morning Briefing here. Today’s briefing is delivered by ITWC editorial director Alex Coop.

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Catching up with SAP about contact tracing

We spoke with SAP Canada president Andy Canham and SAP CTO Juergen Mueller about Germany’s COVID-19 contact tracing app Corona Warn. The app was developed alongside Deutsche Telekom. Days after its release, Corona Warn had been downloaded almost 11 million times. The two executives highlight why the app’s launch was successful, and what Canada can learn as it prepares to launch its own contact tracing app. The full story, featuring Canham, Juergen, and other sources, will go live this week, so stay tuned. But for now, enjoy this short snippet.

SAP chief technology officer Juergen Mueller.

It was nearly two months ago when SAP chief technology officer Juergen Mueller got a call from the German health ministry. They wanted help developing a contact tracing solution to accelerate the country’s manual contact tracing efforts, and to prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“The Apple-Google API wasn’t even released at this point,” Mueller told us in a recent interview. He was joined by SAP Canada president Andy Canham.

SAP had early access to the developer program for the API, Mueller explained, and from there, he and his team, together with Deutsche Telekom, quickly began layering on different connections to the nation’s health labs and healthcare authorities, as well as important security measures. They also ensured the app would scale, and attached a telephone hotline allowing people to call in and identify themselves as a person infected with COVID-19 if they wanted to. The decentralized approach quickly turned out to be a favourable choice. Public trust played a huge role in dictating the app’s infrastructure, and since most experts agree that a decentralized approach is currently the most privacy-preserving approach to contact tracing, a centralized model was hard to justify.

Both types use Bluetooth signals to communicate when smartphone owners are close to each other. That means if someone develops COVID-19 symptoms, an alert can be sent to other users they may have infected. But under the centralized model, the anonymized data gathered is uploaded to a remote server where matches are made with other contacts, should a person start to develop COVID-19 symptoms. The decentralized model gives users more control over their data by keeping it on the phone.

Sidestepping a centralized contact tracing solution meant healthcare institutions would lose the ability to gain detailed insights into infections and likely identify new patterns in the virus’ spread. Mueller said a centralized solution was discussed but it became clear that obtaining public buy-in would have been very tough. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations had also made its citizens much more privacy savvy.

Days after its release, Corona Warn, had been downloaded almost 11 million times.  The population of Germany is approximately 83 million. This represents an adoption rate of nearly 15 per cent, which is what some experts suggest is the minimum required adoption rate needed for a contact tracing solution to yield results. This is, of course, if the app is working alongside other measures. An app alone with zero additional resources and a 15 per cent adoption rate would be a failure, Mueller says.

While Canada is close to launching its own contact tracing app built on the same Apple-Google API – as of this morning, the Canadian federal government has yet to confirm the launch date of the app – Canham says Canada can learn a lot from Germany’s handling of contact tracing.

“Germany is ahead of us,” he said, highlighting the speed with which Germany’s federal government moved to push the open-source project through. “But the learning process doesn’t stop with the app.”

The Canadian federal government, Canham says, alongside several provinces, are fully aware of Corona Warn and SAP’s involvement. Canham and his team have been briefing government officials for weeks.

A contact tracing app used as a complementary piece to a government’s additional resources fighting COVID-19 is a no-brainer, Canham says.

“If we can use technology to save lives why aren’t we doing it?”

In case you missed it

The recent news that we maybe didn’t get to yet, or it’s the news we’ve reported on and feel is worth resurfacing. Sometimes we’ll also feature awesome stories from other publications.


ITWC’s Digital Transformation Week is over, but our coverage lives on! Catch up on all of our award winners right here. We want to thank everyone who submitted a nomination form, as well as all of this year’s finalists. We want to extend our thanks to this year’s judges, sponsors, speakers, panelists, and everyone who registered and tuned in for the virtual event itself.

Digital Transformation Awards (July 13-15)

CIO of the Year Awards (July 16)

Daily recaps:


From IT World Canada – Russia-linked hacker group targets COVID-19 vaccine development efforts [FULL STORY]

A hacker group with ties to the Russian Intelligence Services attempted to steal information on COVID-19 vaccine development globally, including Canada, reported United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) last week.


From IT World Canada – Twitter attack highlights need to better protect admin accounts, experts say [FULL STORY]

Twitter’s embarrassing admission that its employees were inadvertently responsible for the take-over of celebrity accounts Wednesday and used to spread a Bitcoin scam after falling for a social engineering attack has again highlighted the need for organizations to boost protection for staff with administrative access, say experts.


From IT Business Canada – Digital media seeing some upward momentum, but recovery remains slow [FULL STORY]

Digital media is seeing the strongest recovery month-over-month in Canada as lockdown measures across the country start to lift, according to the Standard Media Index, which analyzes data related to advertising pricing and spend.


From Business Insider – A ‘handful’ of Cisco employees were fired after posting offensive comments objecting to the company’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement – [FULL STORY]

Cisco said it fired some employees for “inappropriate conduct” after they submitted anti-Black Lives Matter posts in the comment section of virtual all-hands meetings, according to a new Bloomberg report.


From The New York Times – Hackers Tell the Story of the Twitter Attack From the Inside [FULL STORY]

Several people involved in the events that took down Twitter this week spoke with The Times, giving the first account of what happened as a pursuit of Bitcoin spun out of control.

Bookmarks of the week

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Someone is getting creative with their terms and conditions …



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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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