Are Corona App users more cautious? – Behavioral data from Germany

Smartphone apps can play a key role in fighting the spread of the Corona virus. The Infections can be traced back and further spread may be prevented early by sending alerts to users who were in contact with a person tested positive. In Germany, the app called “Corona-Warn-App” was developed by the Robert Koch Institute and was, as of 30 Oct 2020, downloaded more than 21 million times. The efficacy of the app depends on the number of its users. According to an Oxford study, in order to completely suppress the pandemic, 56% of the population need to use the app. But even with lower numbers above a minimum of 15% the infections and deaths can be prevented. While this implies that the corona app has an impact on the containment of the virus, there is still room for improvement to get more downloads.

To get more people convinced to download the corona app it is therefore crucial to understand: Who is actually using the corona app? What differentiates their behavior from those who don’t?

We looked at the mobility behavior of corona app and non-corona app users and also digital smartphone behavior. Which group travels more? Is it plausible that corona app users differentiate themselves from non-users through their high smartphone affinity? Who is using more social & communication apps? Who is rather consuming passive apps such as videos and games?

We looked at behavioral data of 668 participants, of who 290 had installed the corona app. The data was collected from July to September 2020 in Germany with the consent of the test persons. In our analyses we focused on the mobility behavior measured as distance travelled in km and diameter of the daily travel area in km. Second, we looked at the smartphone and app usage duration by app category.

How corona app users behave

To compare the mobility behavior of people with and without the corona app, we analyzed data points sent by their smartphones throughout the day. When looking at the average distance travelled per day, corona app users travelled about 4 km further than non-users (sum of all means of transport and on foot).


Apart from the total daily distance, we analyzed the diameter in which a person moves on a day. We defined the diameter as the distance between the two furthest apart locations on a day. A small diameter of 1km may imply that a person only stayed in her neighborhood, in close proximity to her home. In our sample, corona app users spent 22% of the in an area with a diameter of 1 km. In comparison, non-users did so on 29% of their days. Users without Corona App also made fewer further trips (>20km).


Furthermore, we also looked at digital behavior of corona app users. We found that people with corona app use their phones on daily average 5 min more (3:44 hours vs 3:49 hours). When looking at the digital behavior more closely, non-users of the corona app spent slightly more time in communication apps (i.e. WhatsApp) and social apps (i.e. Instagram) [110min daily average to 106min daily average]. On the other handy, corona app users on average spent a bit more time playing games or watching videos (47 min to 45min).


What the results tell us

It has to be noted that our sample consisted of predominantly people under 35 years and slightly more women than men, therefore, it doesn’t represent the general population. Still, our results have some interesting conclusions that can be further investigated:

  1. Our results on mobility behavior could indicate that Corona-Warn-App users are generally not more careful, as they do spend fewer days close to their place of residence and also cover a higher average daily travel distance than non-users. Furthermore, the real-time risk estimation might give the user a feeling of control and safety which allows them to act less cautious. On the other hand, people who tend to travel less might not see the need to download the corona app.

  2. We have found that people without corona app use more communication and social media apps, although the total usage time on the smartphone is less than that of corona App users. This could also indicate that non-users make fewer visits and prefer digital solutions to communicate with other people, and therefore, may not see the importance of downloading the corona App. More advertising for the corona App on these platforms could increase the number of downloads and thus the effectiveness of the App.

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