So far this year, we’ve seen the rise of a global pandemic and for good measure, now there are Murder Hornets. And it’s only May.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, it might have seemed strange if two of the biggest names in tech joined forces on a common goal. Yet here we are. Now Google and Apple are now working together to deliver a contact-tracing solution to millions of smartphone owners, and state governments are hoping it can help expedite the process of reopening the economy to workers and consumers. Tap or click here for a quick rundown on how this program will work.
And for the first time, we have a sneak peek at what this new contact-tracing program will look like for users. Not only is it designed to anonymize your personal information, but it also has a few verification features to keep the app informative and trolls far away. Here’s what you can expect on your phone in the coming months.
Apple and Google unveil the interface of their new contact-tracing program for smartphones
On May 4, Google and Apple released a detailed briefing that shows their joint progress on a new contact-tracing program for iPhone and Android device owners. Health authorities hope the digital tool will be useful as the economy reopens, and that it can potentially help curb a second wave of infections before it has a chance to explode.
Here’s how the program works: Users can voluntarily sign up for the program and provide their COVID-19 status to the application. From that point on, the phone will rely on Bluetooth to exchange communications with nearby phones.
If a person who is positive with COVID-19 gets close enough for a long enough period of time, a push notification will be sent with information on the next steps they should take. Any positive status or other health-related information is classified and encrypted by the service, with only anonymous notifications being sent over.
Addressing concerns that the tool could be used for widespread privacy violations in the future, Apple and Google formally announced that they would discontinue the tracking app once the COVID-19 crisis has ended.
How is my information protected by this application? What’s stopping trolls from messing it up?
Privacy issues and abuse are key factors behind Apple and Google’s newfound transparency on the program, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Between a spike in coronavirus-related scams and “Zoombombing” trolls on conference calls, bad cyber actors are a legitimate concern. Tap or click here to see how Zoombombing works.
Fortunately, a bit has changed in how Apple and Google encrypt your data. Rather than generate your tracing and exposure keys (the formal names for the signals your phone sends) based on your existing information, these codes are now randomly generated.
In addition, new encryption has been added that hides a device’s operating system and power level, which could potentially be abused to identify specific people.
Trolls, on the other hand, are a major object of concern. Without proper safeguards, trolls could falsely claim to have COVID-19 and visit a crowded public area. This would result in false notifications scaring people about potential exposure. It’s easy to imagine someone with a particularly juvenile sense of humor abusing this.
To combat this, Apple and Google are including a mandatory verification feature for positive COVID-19 diagnoses. Future tests will come with a unique identifier number that the app automatically verifies, which will prevent false-positive claims and prevent trolls from turning the app into a pranking opportunity.
Most importantly, Google and Apple are forcing partner applications and companies to adhere to a few rules regarding data harvesting and targeted ads. For example, partner apps can only be used for COVID-19 response efforts. They cannot use location services, and targeted ads must be turned off before the contact-tracing API can be accessed.
All-in-all, it seems like Google and Apple are taking a holistic approach to tracking the spread of the virus. Whether or not this trust is broken eventually remains to be seen.
But at least it’s not Facebook that’s developing the tool. Tap or click here to see how Facebook continues to sell user data.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.