Project coming from the union of Apple and Google to fight Covid-19 shows a fine line between privacy and protection.
Apple and Google announced on Friday a joint force to help governments and health agencies track cases of Covid-19 through cell phone tracking. The tech giants said that privacy and security will be essential to their projects, as well as transparency and consent (yes, these will be membership programs). Still, these promises are doing little to suppress the concerns of privacy advocates and even conspiracy theorists.
In May, companies will launch APIs that allow “interoperability between Android and iOS devices” in applications by public health officials. In the coming months, the two will work to create a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracking platform that integrates functionality directly into their respective mobile operating systems.
It is easy to argue that using smartphone data to track coronavirus infections has serious privacy implications. But then again, using smartphones to track people is not new, as Snowden revealed years ago.
One can also argue the effectiveness of such a system. We have been told that our best defenses against the virus now include staying home, getting tested and quarantining if you are positive. How useful would a tracking system really be? It is a reactive system, alerting you only if you have crossed paths with someone who may have been exposed to an infected person.
At that point, you may already be infected. I suppose this can help you make a decision about whether or not to quarantine, it would potentially prevent you from continuing to spread Covid-19 to others before symptoms are evident.
On the other hand, some argue that if a system like this can save at least one life, it would be worth it.
Apple and Google have published several technical documents on the subject for anyone interested in delving into the technical aspects of the proposed system.