We might all be walking around in the not-too-distant future with a mobile app designed to map and trace the Covid-19 spread. This has caused the ringing of certain privacy warning bells, and Apple and Google have now discussed more about how their apps can work to try to put their minds at ease.
Recent papers released online describe different aspects of the Bluetooth, cryptography, and data storage protocols to be used, so that everybody understands what they’re going to let themselves do once they enable those devices. There is a FAQ about the consequences of privacy, too.
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If you’re just getting up to speed with this, Apple and Google are working together on phone software that will alert other people that you’ve recently been physically close to if you contract COVID-19. The whole process will operate anonymously, and so far it’s very much a work-in-progress, with no official launch yet announced.
Readings (of where you are and where other people are) will be taken every five minutes and capped at 30 minutes per pairing, although numerous other tweaks will increase the draw on battery life and the accuracy of these devices.
It will be completely up to you, the user, whether these tracking systems are turned on at all, and whether or not the data is exchanged with apps, and the program will depend on Bluetooth readings to find out which devices you’re near – no location data (e.g. where you are in the world) will be logged. The full FAQ can be seen here.
Technically, these are not “apps” as such – they are APIs or Application Programming Interfaces that can be used by other device manufacturers (such as health services and governments) to access iOS and Android info. Apple and Google promise there will be tight control over the number of apps that will be able to access that data.
The tech companies and the world’s governments know that public trust and support are necessary for these devices to operate as expected, and you can expect to hear even more about privacy security before the actual tech gets out in the wild.