It was just a matter of time. Given the efficacy of contact tracing in flattening the curve so far, to execute contact tracing at a large scale, technology had to come to the rescue. Whilst Asian countries such as China, Korea and Singapore have been using mobile phone based surveillance for contact tracing, with Apple and Google getting involved, this could now go global mainstream. The piece explains the Bluetooth based technology behind the initiative also raises some pertinent questions around privacy and the risk of use by more authoritarian states for totalitarian surveillance even beyond Covid.
“They [Apple and Google] are joining forces to build an opt-in contact-tracing tool using Bluetooth technology that could help public health officials track the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The new tool brings with it not only hope for a quicker end to the pandemic, but also a host of privacy and security concerns.
The contact-tracing tool Apple and Google want to create would have your smartphone log when you’ve come into close contact with other people. If one of those people later reports Covid-19 symptoms to a public health authority, your phone would receive an alert about the diagnosis. It works a bit like exchanging contact information with everyone you meet, except everything is designed to be anonymous and automatic.
Once it’s equipped with this new contact-tracing software, your smartphone will periodically exchange anonymized tracing keys with nearby devices via Bluetooth. The phone maintains a list of keys collected from people you have come in contact that with stays on your device, not a server, unless you test positive for coronavirus and report your diagnosis. If that happens, your phone will then upload those keys to a server that will send alerts to the owners of recently collected keys. The alert will not reveal who’s infected — in this example, that’s you — but it will share information for what people who were in proximity to you should do next.”

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