Contact tracing that questions privacy

Cheryl

Rosie Moderator
Staff member
Mod
While this may help in slowing/stopping the virus, I wonder if people will understanding that this opt-in effort is meddling into privacy issues on your phone.
Check out this axis article : Apple & Google team up on coronavirus contact tracing.

"Google and Apple are both making changes to their mobile operating systems to let devices exchange a private key with nearby smartphones via Bluetooth, logging any time users come in close proximity. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 and enters that information into an app, 14 days worth of their contacts with other users are sent to a server. Phones periodically check if any recently encountered user has reported being infected. If so, a notification pops up letting the user know that someone they have been in contact with has tested positive and more information is provided. The new technology will work on iPhones running iOS 13 or later and on Android devices running any version of the operating system from 2015's Marshmallow on."
 

bbloke

Registered
I can understand the unease and I'm very careful about these things. In this case, however, I'm not overly worried. Apple has an interest in protecting users' privacy and has increased this with iOS 14. The use of the term "contacts" may also be confusing here, because it can make people think of the contacts list on their phone.

While I'd always advize people to be careful and look into privacy considerations, be aware in parallel that, just like with anti-vaccination campaigns on social media, there are those with vested interests in trying to adversely affect the health of other nations; for example, Russia Today apparently may have been the originator of a story to cause suspicion about the NHS COVID-19 app in the UK.

In the UK, this API works with the NHS COVID-19 app. My understanding is that users have a temporary and randomized identifier. There are no personal details (name, phone number, E-Mail address, etc.) used. If you opt in and use an app, then your proximity to others who do the same is recorded for a couple of weeks, using these randomized identifiers.

If someone has a test and is positive, then the app looks back and checks people who have been close (these are your "contacts," not your address book), based upon Bluetooth, and alerts them. If the Bluetooth signal was strong enough and the interaction was long enough, it warns you that you may have been exposed (but of course does not, and cannot, reveal who it was). If it decides the interaction was not significant and you can relax, then it tells you that too. It helps people to judge when they've been exposed and may need to isolate, or even get tested.

After two weeks, the identifiers are all randomized again. So my understanding is that Apple and Google have been careful about privacy, especially as lack of privacy would prevent uptake, which is in the interest of public health. The API and the apps don't have or use your personal details, plus they use random identifiers that get changed periodically anyway.

Also, if you're curious, the NHSX team behind the NHS COVID-19 app in the UK have put their code on GitHub: https://github.com/nhsx. More information about this app and use of data can be found at https://www.nhsx.nhs.uk/covid-19-response/nhs-covid-19-app/ and https://covid19.nhs.uk/privacy-and-data.html.
 
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Cheryl

Rosie Moderator
Staff member
Mod
Your explanation does a better job than anything I have read. Of course the article I originally posted is 6 months ago and we know more now - about a lot of things. :cool:
 

bbloke

Registered
Your explanation does a better job than anything I have read. Of course the article I originally posted is 6 months ago and we know more now - about a lot of things. :cool:
Thanks, Cheryl! I hope it helped and, yes, I noticed the original post was from a few months ago. :)

It's the sort of issue that sounds alarm bells for me too, so I do look into these things and I actually felt reassured in this case. (And I don't think I am that easy to reassure on these matters!) What I listed above comes from a combination of sources when I was reading up. Granted, it would be easier (and more reassuring!) if all this and more could be found and read in one location. ;)
 

andyhilton27

Registered
Contact tracing slows the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing helps protect you, your family, and your community by: Letting people know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Helping people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 get tested.
 

Cheryl

Rosie Moderator
Staff member
Mod
Contact tracing slows the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing helps protect you, your family, and your community by: Letting people know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Helping people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 get tested.
Contact tracing slows the spread only if the people follow the guidelines and quarantine themselves.
 
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