Apple, Google address questions about COVID-19 contact-tracing system

Apple and Google addressed questions about their upcoming COVID-19 smartphone contact-tracing solution on Monday, providing details about a partnership that has raised concerns among many, including privacy and cybersecurity experts.

Apple Google COVID. Apple and Google team on cross-platform COVID-19 contact tracing tool

Apple Google COVID. Apple and Google team on cross-platform COVID-19 contact tracing tool
Apple and Google team on cross-platform COVID-19 contact tracing tool. Click for larger view (Source: Apple and Google)

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

The companies said the tool will require users to verify positive diagnoses before putting that information into the system. Test results will be checked by public health agencies that are building mobile apps that will work with the contact-tracing technology, Apple and Google added. They also defended the privacy of the system, reiterating that users’ names and locations would not be shared or stored.

The technology is designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by telling users they should quarantine or isolate themselves after contact with an infected individual.

Tthe companies also said that the system could record contact between people when smartphone users are within a couple of feet of each other for up to 10 minutes. The companies noted that Bluetooth wireless technology can sense devices from up to 15 feet away.

MacDailyNews Take: Did they also note that Bluetooth works right through drywall and that a person sitting on a sofa in one apartment would look like they were sitting near another person in an adjacent apartment? Sheesh.

Listen, we know Apple and Google, like most everyone else, want to “do something,” but the companies shouldn’t waste their time on “solutions” that are destined to fail. Go source or make some more N95 masks and make them available inexpensively to people who have to go out and work for the next 12-18 months before a vaccine is available. That would be a lot more effective. The only thing this effort will have any positive impact on is PR for Apple and Google (unless, of course, nothing of substance comes from it or it results in a lot of useless false positive contacts, damaging Apple’s and Google’s brands).

Apple and Google can address questions until the cows come home, but we’re not going to be installing any apps that use this proposed system, due to the Google connection, of course, but also, first and foremost, because it simply won’t work anyway for reasons (beyond the intractable Bluetooth-drywall issue) that we explained this morning:

The problem with any COVID-19 contact-tracing tech in the U.S. is obvious, it wouldn’t work very well unless almost everyone used it, but U.S. citizens cannot be compelled to install a tracking app. So, such an app would have to be opt-in and nobody in their right mind trusts Google, much less the U.S. government, to handle lightly anonymized tracking data or to ever turn off collection or delete the data post-vaccine, Therefore, opt-in rates for a contact-tracing app would be suboptimal, if not dismal, resulting in ineffective COVID-19 contact-tracing.

Beware COVID-19 tracking: Emergency powers can outlive their emergencies.

If the government tries to make having such an app active as a requirement for working, or even moving about freely, they’d very likely have very poor legal outcome in the United States.

No location data is truly anonymized. It can be cross-matched with other publicly-available data to identify and track individuals. The idea of any government requiring cellphone tracking to monitor its citizens’ movements, regardless of the reason, is chilling. — MacDailyNews, April 2, 2020

Further, beyond the obvious constitutional rights issues, 18% of the U.S. population, nearly 1-in-5 people, do not even have a smartphone. So, with one of every 5th person roaming about by default, not to mention all of the opt-outs, contact-tracing via iOS and Android smartphones would be more of a feel-good security blanket than anything else.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

Lastly, Apple should be careful here. Google has an awful reputation regarding user privacy. Apple must be wary of tarnishing (or destroying) the reputation for user privacy that they’ve carefully built over many years with a system that not only involves Google, of all companies, but that also has a slew of obvious privacy issues.MacDailyNews, April 13, 2020


  1. This is craziness personified. Way too many variables. And people, don’t give up your rights because of this virus. Our democracy is more important. People will die, no doubt, but our democracy must live on. BTW, all these stay at home orders are unconstitutional. Period.

  2. They couldn’t get Apple to create a backdoor and they couldn’t sell tracking on its own to even 1 in 10,000 Americans. And then bam, the f*cking flu virus knocks down both targets in one scare. Has to make you wonder.

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