Even though the COVID-19 infection curve appears to be flattening, the question of how the economy will recover once new cases fall to a manageable level remains open. After all, even though China has had virtually no national records since the end of March, its economy is still not completely open. Even Singapore, which had initially avoided the worst of the first wave of the pandemic, recently reported an increase in new cases as the country eased restrictions on social distancing.
Once we get through the first six to 10 weeks of foreclosure, as Bill Gates predicted, how can we prevent a recurrence of the epidemic, at least on a large scale? Another element necessary for opening up the economy is the implementation of a robust monitoring system and generalized tests.
It looks like this tracking solution can come directly from your smartphone – whether or not you have a Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone or Android phone, the operating system belonging to Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG). The two tech giants are working jointly on a new COVID-19 integrated smartphone tracking system that will be released in May. The new API could be crucial for reviving the economy as soon as possible.
Sliding proximity identifiers
The new identification system is implemented via so-called rolling proximity identifiers which transmit information via Bluetooth. Assuming both users have the new app and their Bluetooth is turned on – and if you opted for the tracking program (more on that later) – if you get in close contact with another person, your phones will exchange automatically identifiers, a digital code that changes every 15 minutes. The identifiers change frequently so that other personal information such as name and location is protected. The code is then stored on his phone, in a list of all the identifiers contacted during the last 14 days.
If this close contact is subsequently infected with COVID-19, this person or their doctor downloads the identification information to a central system managed by the health authorities. The system will then contact all other identifiers with whom this person has been in close contact in the past 14 days, letting them know that they have been exposed, and then indicating how to proceed next. According to cryptography experts in an article by ARS Technica, the system works unlike raffle tickets, but only that the ticket numbers change every 15 minutes to keep users anonymous.
The system is likely to fill the void left by manual contact tracing, as it can help fill gaps in people’s memories and get a more accurate picture of who they were in close contact with. It certainly seems that he will use less human resources while being more precise than manual detective work.
Release date May
The two companies are working on updates to their operating systems to be released in May, after which users will be able to download the contact tracking application from their respective application stores. However, the two companies plan to implement a second phase, in which contact tracking will be integrated directly into the operating system, which can then be activated or deactivated in the settings.
Since many might not go through the proactive action of downloading the application, especially if there is a small amount of storage on an older model of smartphone, creating the function of searching for contacts directly in the operating system would certainly bring more users into the mix, which is necessary for the program to be effective.
However, the use of the contact search application will be voluntary.
Obviously, a solution like this is sure to raise concerns about user privacy. A tracking system based on the ubiquitous operating system may seem scary to some. Yet even the American Civil Liberties Union seemed to praise the solution:
To their credit, Apple and Google have announced an approach that appears to mitigate the worst risks of privacy and centralization, but there is still room for improvement. … We will remain vigilant in the future to ensure that any contact tracing application remains voluntary and decentralized, and used only for public health purposes and only for the duration of this pandemic.
Some experts have quibbled with certain aspects of the program, including the amount of storage required to store all credentials locally on their phone, which may require location data and a centrally stored repository. Others fear that trolls will download false positives, leaving all of their contacts to believe they have been infected. However, this could be avoided by requiring that test data be downloaded from a hospital or medical provider.
My biggest concern
In the end, I think the biggest concern might not be one of these, but rather that many people could “opt out”, as the use of the Apple / Google tracking API will be voluntary. It is a bit like health insurance requiring a mandate that everyone takes out. If enough people opt out for privacy reasons, the program will not be as effective, as a number of potential carriers will not be in the program.
Still, the solution is definitely better than nothing, and I’m sure other privacy issues and issues will be resolved within the research and development departments of Apple and Google until the May release date and even thereafter.
One of the potential benefits of this is that if the tech giants allow a revolutionary solution to find the contacts, and thus help stop the spread of the disease, large tech conglomerates could get more than one pass from the federal government, which launched deals investigating all of the tech giants last year.
I am in favor of demanding that everyone join the new system in the name of public health. The current working solution is a valiant effort to improve contact tracking while protecting user privacy as much as possible. Apple in particular has been a champion of user privacy, even refusing to open iPhones of mass shooters and suspected terrorists in the past.
This is an interesting debate on the amount of privacy that we will sacrifice for an optimized digital user experience. But when there is a national health emergency like a pandemic, I think we’re all going to have to look towards adopting these tracking systems, as long as the tech giants make a good faith effort to protect privacy as much as possible . This will be a key debate in the technology world, as the technology for collecting and tracking data becomes better and better over time.