Technologists in the EU and elsewhere are focusing on contact-tracing as they race to try to use Bluetooth short-range communications between devices as a proxy for measuring the risk that a person infected with the coronavirus can pass it on.
Apple and Alphabet’s Google said last week that they would launch tools to support such applications in May, with full integration of Bluetooth contact tracing functions into their operating systems to follow.
Chris Boos, who is championing the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) technology platform, says this can help shorten the path to deployment.
But a divide has opened up between supporters of decentralized systems – including Apple and Google – and advocates of a centralised approach in which sensitive data is held on a server. The latter includes some governments, raising concerns that they could put citizens under surveillance…
No decision has yet been made, however, to endorse an official contact-tracing app to run on PEPP-PT that experts say here would need to be downloaded by at least 60% of the population to help achieve so-called digital herd immunity.
MacDailyNews Take: Bluetooth works right through drywall. A person sitting on a sofa in one apartment would look like they were sitting near another person in an adjacent apartment.
What about public transport or any of the myriad ways people will be in Bluetooth range for the 10-minute period or whatever arbitrary time limit is implemented? (The virus could transmit in a second given a good unprotected cough; it doesn’t need 10 minutes.)
As we wrote yesterday, specifically in regard to the U.S., but the problems with the system’s ineffectiveness are universal and apply to EU contact-tracing, too:
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 [here in the U.S.] 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 [Tuesday] 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.
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.
Smartphone penetration in Western Europe is even worse at
around 70%. So, 30% in Western Europe don’t even have a smartphone to participate in EU contact-tracing. And that’s before you factor in non-compliance. “Digital herd immunity” is a nice idea, until every third person with whom you come in contact is a potential, untraceable COVID-19 carrier.
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