Apple, Google ready coronavirus contact tracing system ahead of launch

25 Avril, 2020, 08:57 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • U.S. lawmaker says any COVID-19 contact tracing tech should be voluntary and limited

Cybersecurity researchers have questioned the contact tracing technology, saying tracing apps that allow attackers to access a user's Bluetooth also allows them to fully read all Bluetooth communications.

Contact tracking technology is being developed by Google and Apple.

Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat and online privacy advocate, said in a letter released Wednesday that any digital coronavirus contact tracing should be voluntary, transparent and collect only the information needed to identify who might be at risk of contracting the respiratory ailment that has killed more than 45,000 people in the United States. According to a report by Financial Times, as many as 2 billion older mobile phones lack Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, a newer version that needs less power, and the upcoming contact tracing feature relies on it. Apple and Google clarified in a follow-up Q&A session about the system that users would still be prompted to download and install a public health app from their local authority should their phone notify them of a possible contact, so that they could get additional info about next steps from a trusted source. The challenge is to do that in a way that protects user privacy and doesn't allow individuals to be tracked or identified.

The technology does not employ Global Positioning System location data and stores most sensitive data in a decentralized way on users' phones. In the coming months, the technology will be embedded more deeply into the Apple and Google operating systems to be less reliant on apps.

Apple and Google said the application will be opt-in, CNET reported. How it will work in simple terms is that devices will be able to remember other devices that were in close proximity. Now, Apple and Google have outlined their plans in detail and addressed one big worry: that of user privacy.

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"We are updating the API so that keys will now be randomly generated rather than derived from a temporary tracing key".

Other phones will be listening for these beacons and broadcasting theirs as well.

This approach, which requires the second phase of the project to work, means smartphone owners can be alerted without telling health authorities that specific people have come into contact with infected individuals. Even then, develop apps that will take advantage of the capability would be up to public health officials' decision.

Each device will check the list of beacons it has recorded against the list downloaded from the server. In this case, users won't need to resort to any third-party applications as opt-ins for the contact tracing system would be natively managed on the device itself.

"Exposure notification is only one element of the response to COVID-19 and is hoped to be a useful technology in the toolbox of public health authorities". If the owner of any device tests positive for the virus, other users will be informed.

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