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Apples, Google to harness phones for infection tracking



Fintechs decry Google's new rules on loan apps

Adebayo Obajemu

There appears to be hope in sight for humanity intermittently hit by different kinds of lethal viruses as two hitec giants-Apple and Google have fueled hopes for digital technology’s promise against a fast-moving, invisible killer such as the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a landmark joint announcement, the duo said joint efforts are in top gear to develop software to help public health agencies worldwide leverage smartphones to contain infectious diseases such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to two hitec wizkids- the new software the companies are aiming to add to phones would make it easier to use Bluetooth wireless technology to track down people who may have been infected by infectious diseases such as coronavirus carriers.

The plan is to help national, state and local governments roll out apps for so-called “contact tracing” that will run on iPhones and Android phones alike.

The technology is primed to work by harnessing short-range bluetooth signals. Using the Apple-Google technology, contact-tracing apps would gather a record of other phones with which they came into close proximity.

The beauty of this is that such data could be used to alert others who might have been infected by known carriers of the novel coronavirus, typically when the phones’ owners have installed the apps and agreed to share data with public-health authorities.

According to them, developers have already created such apps in countries including Singapore and China to try to contain the pandemic. In Europe, the Czech Republic says it will release an app after Easter. Britain, Germany and Italy are also developing their own tracing tools.

No such apps have yet been announced in the United States, but Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said Friday that state officials have been in touch with the companies as they look ahead at how to reopen and lift stay-at-home orders.

“We were on the phone just this morning, for example, with Apple,” he said at a news conference.

As expected, issues of freedoms of individual privacy and the Big brother is watching you have resurfaced. Privacy and civil liberties activists have warned that the apps need to be designed so governments cannot abuse them to track their citizens. Apple and Google said in a rare joint announcement that user privacy and security are baked into the design of their plan.

The technology might serve as a stopgap until there is widespread testing for the novel coronavirus, which in the U.S. remains limited after production problems and limited federal coordination of the tests’ production and distribution.

“It’s not a replacement for just having widespread testing, which would be more accurate,” said Tiffany Li, a visiting law professor at Boston University who studies privacy and technology. “But clearly we have a huge shortage of tests.”

Bluetooth signal tracking, as Google and Apple plan to use it, can protect privacy far better than other options such as GPS or cell-tower based location data, which allow centralized authorities access to the information.

But Li noted it could still lead to numerous mistaken alerts — for instance, if someone were in full protective gear or in an adjacent apartment while physically close to an infected person.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said a conversation with Apple’s senior director for global privacy, Jane Horvath, assured her that the initiative will protect people’s privacy.


Sensitive information will stay on individual phones in encrypted form — no personally identifiable data would be collected — and alerts would be handled by public health agencies, not the tech companies, according to briefing paper seen by The Associated Press. It says location data for users won’t be used and the identity of people who may have been infected will be protected by encryption and anonymous identifier beacons that change frequently.

When contacted by Business Hallmark, Adele Awesu, a security expert with

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