Public bodies fail: Volunteers have to sacrifice free time to make CovPass app available to all
After the successful liberation of the German Corona tracing app from Google services last year, volunteers once more have to step in to take over the government's task in order to make the CovPass app available to everyone.
With the CovPass app, the EU digital COVID certificate for Corona vaccination can be used on smartphones. Until today, it was only available on Apple, Huawai and Google app stores due to proprietary dependencies. The support team of the CovPass app also argued that the app cannot be published in other app stores due to security reasons and to prevent misuse. This argumentation is not only misleading and wrong, as we have already seen with other Corona apps, but prevents the use of many Corona apps for people who value privacy and software freedom on their devices. A group of volunteers worked heavily in the past weeks to make this app available to everyone and released it today on F-Droid, a Free Software app store.
To do so, the volunteers also removed proprietary Google libraries which are not necessary for the app to function. This additional work could have been prevented if the CovPass developers (who are paid with public funds) would not include such unnecessary proprietary libraries from the beginning. Furthermore, the company developing CovPass was unsupportive towards external developers, which increased the difficulty for the volunteers to contribute improvements. Because of this, improvements which would have required little effort by the original developers turned out to be a difficult task for volunteers. A positive example is the COVID Certificate, the official app for storing and presenting Swiss COVID certificates. It was developed by the Federal Office of Information Technology, Systems and Telecommunication (FOITT) on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health, and the developers made sure to include the app in the Free Software app store F-Droid themselves.
Felix C. Stegerman, software developer and part of the volunteers group that worked on the CovPass app: "I want to make sure that everyone can use publicly financed apps so we can tackle the pandemic. It is sad that the processes of some of those publicly financed apps scare off external contributions instead of working together on improvements. More administrations should follow the example of the developers of the Swiss COVID Certificate app."
Matthias Kirschner, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe expresses: "One more time volunteers are taking over governments' and administrations' tasks to make Corona apps available to everyone. The FSFE thanks @jugendhacker, @mythsunwind, @rugk, @tzugen, Felix C. Stegerman and Marcus Hoffmann for their crucial work in tackling the pandemic. But it should not be on volunteers to do this job: we urge the government to quickly adapt its practices and make sure everyone can use such apps without any restrictions from the start. Furthermore, if ensured that solutions are published as Free Software, they can be adjusted and reused by other institutions around the world."
Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, the FSFE has demanded that all apps released to tackle the crisis must be Free Software. Only Free Software offers enough transparency to validate complete data protection and compliant use; allowing trust to be established. Also, global problems need global solutions, and it is only Free Software that enables global code development in a legally safe and cooperative environment. Any proprietary solution will inevitably lead to countless isolated solutions and thereby waste energy and time. Besides global cooperation, Free Software licences allow sharing of code in any jurisdiction and for every device.