Apple-Google virus-tracking rules put apps in a privacy bind

Apple and Google also renamed their structure to exposure notifications, the process of tracking viruses from one person to another, indicating that this is not true contact tracing. From France to Australia to North Dakota, government apps designed to help authorities track down and slow down the spread of the Kovid-19 are due to restrictions on data collection built into smartphones by Apple Inc. and Google Struggling to meet goals.

This is leaving public health officials with few options but to use a system designed by Apple and Google themselves. Tech companies say that their devices maintain privacy and work natively on devices used by about 3 billion people.

Here’s the rub: The same secrecy involves lock officers to collect information they can use to track the widespread spread of the virus, spot large patterns and reopen .

“The exposure app gives you an indication that you’re in contact with someone who was positive, but it does nothing for the health department and its contact-tracing efforts,” said a former technologist who is helping, Vern Dose said. Carry out a contact tracing effort for the state of North Dakota.

Apple and Google also renamed their structure to exposure notifications, the process of tracking viruses from one person to another, indicating that this is not true contact tracing. Instead, it lets individual smartphones track other handsets they come close to using Bluetooth wireless signals. If a person notifies a network tested positive for Kovid-19, a warning may be issued to each person infected by them if they have not opted.

The system performs this match anonymously on each device, rather than in a central database that the government can use to track the disease more broadly – a feature that companies say is more secure and that Helps understand user’s concerns about its sensitive health data.

At the same time, companies are refusing to ease restrictions in their mobile software that are preventing governments from building contact tracing of their own centralized, less private apps. This may fall back on tech giants, who are already under scrutiny for contradictory violations and other business practices that critics say give them too much power.

“Apple could have helped us improve it even more,” France’s Digital Minister Cedric O said, referring to the country’s Kovid-19 tracking app, set to launch in June. “A company that has never been in better economic shape is not helping the government fight the crisis. We will remember this. ”

Some countries have tried to find a technical workaround, but some governments have found success in building a working app without following Apple and Google’s regulations. Locations that already have an app that uses the location on a central server or sends data will not be allowed to be updated with tech giants’ tools. This forces North Dakota to build a second existing app.

Dosh said, “We pleaded with him to have our case with both Apple and Google, but the answer was no.

In most places, not enough people have downloaded apps to make them effective in the first place, despite the authorities pleading to do so. Apple and Google say their built-in system will eventually give anonymous notifications to people who don’t download the government app.

Traditionally contact tracing involves human investigators manually manipulating a disease from one person to another so that they can isolate those who might be exposed and help authorities to tell where And when to enter lockdown. The use of technology such as Bluetooth or GPS helps this process by providing more data where an infected person traveled. Apple and Google’s systems only serve to inform people, rather than trying to prevent governments and other contacts from providing this information.

Advocates of privacy have generally praised the companies’ approach, stating that it maintains anonymity and security while building a useful tool that can help fight disease. But this situation reflects the power of technology giants when it comes to deciding the role of technology in people’s lives.

This debate is similar to the one that emerged when the US government demanded Apple create a software back door in iPhones to give access to authorities for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism. Apple has protested saying that the precedent would harm the civil rights and privacy of the millions of people who use its devices.

Many users may well prefer a system with parameters set by Apple and Google. This is what the preliminary results of a survey conducted in Seattle by the University of Washington reveal. When asked before Apple and Google announced their plans, more than half of respondents said they are comfortable with Apple and Google Maps applications using location data to help prevent viruses.

The main technical hurdles that governments face are that Apple phones do not send Bluetooth “pings” when the phone is locked or the app is running in the background. This means that people have to move around constantly with their public-health app and their phone will be unlocked if they need it. Another problem is that Apple and Google phones generally do not communicate well with each other, a problem that companies decide by designing their systems together.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment. Representatives of Google did not respond to requests for comment.

In the UK, the National Health Service opted to design its own system, allowing authorities to have a centralized database of Kovid cases across the country. The app’s data will help human interaction trainers find out who to call and let administrators make decisions based on patterns that emerge from the information, such as where to ramp the test and minimize lockdown.

But just a few days before the app trial began, the UK government published a contract issued to a Swiss engineering firm asking it to combine Apple and Google’s systems. The UK government said it wanted to continue with its centralized model but was reviewing all options.

France and the UK have become outliers in Europe with the decision to choose their own centralized approach, raising questions about how the region’s systems will work with contact-tracing applications based on tools from Google and Apple. Experts say that decentralized and centralized apps are incompatible, a possibility that could make cross-border travel in Europe more difficult, given that authorities are not able to easily exchange information about infections needed.

The European Union, which is pressurizing member states to align on the issue, is scheduled to release minimum requirements for interoperability of apps on Wednesday.

Singapore, which was the first country to rollout a Bluetooth contact-tracing app in March, explicitly stated that the drawback of its app is that iPhone users must be running it all the time “due to Apple’s iOS design”. The Canadian province of Alberta, which is using a version of the Singaporean app, has run into the same problem.

The Dutch government has opted to use the approach of Google and Apple after criticizing several independent tracing apps developed for the country by privacy experts. Australia’s digital agency has said that Bluetooth is “highly variable” on iPhones using the country’s contact-tracing app, which was launched well before the Apple and Google tools became available. The location that the North Dakota app uses is riddled with accuracy problems due to restrictions imposed by tech companies on how such data can be used when an app is running in the background.

Back in France, officials say they have found a way to make their app work without the help of Apple and Google. It is scheduled to go live on June 2, but the government has not released technical information on how it will work.

Persistent barriers to a tech fix for contact tracing underscores that are not an obvious way to prevent the virus while retaining privacy, said Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, who specializes in privacy and technology. .

“Technology has a role to help with manual contact tracing, but there is no way I can do that without the privacy trade-offs I’ve seen,” said Callow. “You can’t get out of an epidemic with a clever app.”

Back to top button