COVID-19 Cases

Showdown between Silicon Valley, USA, via contact tracing applications


Google plans to release technology jointly for digital contact tracing through Bluetooth phone sensors in the coming weeks. Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc. Public health authorities have concluded that technology is critical in applications that alert people when they are close to people who have tested the novel coronavirus positive.

However, in order for contact tracing apps to work, millions of people must be willing to use them without fears of tracking and storing their locations and other personal information.

Google and Apple tried to build public confidence by stressing that the changes made to Bluetooth to enable the tracking of apps will not tap on GPS sensors on phones, which privacy activists believe are too intrusive.

However, the states that develop the applications-north and south Dakota and Utah-say that it is crucial to make the system viable for public health authorities to use GPS in conjunction with Bluetooth.

The Bluetooth technology can notify users if they have crossed the paths with a carrier of coronavirus, but not specify where it occurred, that the information is essential for those authorities who want to identify hotspots for the transmission of viruses and move quickly to stop outbreaks.

On Friday, Apple and Google said they did not yet decide how to proceed.

"I'd encourage you to go to the' and' solution, not the' or' solution," said North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum in an interview late Thursday of Apple and Google.

"Within this new normal, there is room to find solutions that protect privacy and enhance efficiency in contact tracking," said Burgum, a former software manager who sold a company for over one billion dollars to Microsoft Corp in 2001.

In the early version of Care19, an anonymous GPS localization data already play a key role, for which some 40,000 people in North and South Dakota signed up.

Authorities are currently asking Care19 users to give their permission for GPS location time-stamped data, allowing officials to manually call places that might have spread the virus and request names and numbers of other users that might have been present at the same time.

With the Bluetooth technology of Apple and Google, this laborious process no longer is required, which automatically catalogs user encounters and enables carriers to anonymously convey potentially infected people to test themselves. If both companies do not change, iPhone users should always keep their phone unlocked and app open.

Utah's Healthy Together tracking app, launched on Wednesday, uses a workaround that catalogs only some meetings. Healthy Together also collects location data and Apple and Google hope its developers won't force them to use the more extensive Bluetooth technology.

“What Utah wanted to understand is not just who is spreading [the virus] to

whom but also location zones,” said Jared Allgood, chief strategy officer

for Twenty, the startup which developed Utah’s app for an initial $1.75


GPS location information allows authorities to decide which companies should be closed because the virus is spreading and prioritize which contacts diagnosed patients should be tested.

"Is it in a park, in a Costco or in a Walmart? They try to make policy decisions that move our economy from a broad' all is shut down' approach to a more focused approach," Allgood said in an interview with us on Friday.

Privacy advocates also warned that any collection of local data on health issues will make companies and individuals susceptible to ostracization when details are made known.

However, Tim Brookins, a Microsoft engineer who worked previously for Burgum and developed the Care19 independently of his employer, said that location data was stored on a rented Microsoft Azure server, to which only he and another person had the keys. North Dakota pays around $9,000 for six months to license Care19, he said.

Allgood said that the Utah app asks users for their phone number, but location data is stored anonymously on Amazon Web Services' rented server.

“We don’t see a reason why Apple or Google would not allow us to

participate in their tools,” said Diesel Peltz, Twenty’s CEO.

Brookins and Burgum have expressed confidence that the two technology giants can collect local data after Care19 has implemented safeguards, including not requesting user names, phone numbers or e-mail addresses.

"Some people are totally opposed to intrusion on privacy, but a younger generation has dozens of apps that share their location," said Burgum.

"Some people can be very social, young and go to bars and see this tool as fantastic.

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