Apple, Google to unveil contact tracing tech


Breaking news today shows progress on Apple and Google building new technologies for coronavirus contact tracing – but there’s a catch.


As national governments look to implement some of these new tech tools to try to get a handle on the virus, data privacy issues apply, according to those covering these developments.


For example, governments have run up against Google and Apple’s policies on requiring personal user data. An AP report provides this background:


“Many governments have already tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to roll out their own phone apps to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those apps have encountered technical problems on Apple and Android phones and haven’t been widely adopted. They often use GPS to track people’s location, which Apple and Google are banning from their new tool because of privacy and accuracy concerns.”


All of this leads to significant chaos and confusion over how digital trackers can help us to emerge from our coronavirus pandemic crisis.


“We have a collision of tech, privacy and health professionals and the Venn diagram doesn’t really have a spot where they all overlap,” said Chester Wisniewski, a principal research scientist at cybersecurity company Sophos, in a press statement widely quoted in the NYT and other sources.


Along with widespread testing, contact tracing has the potential to facilitate an easing of lockdown restrictions and more confidence among the general public. The CDC calls it “part of a multi-pronged approach to fight the COVID-19 pandemic” – but that assumes buy-in from people. And what if people won’t get a vaccine, either?


The virus has highlighted the chronic tension between individual rights and collective responsibilities. The struggle of big tech companies to help save us will be a prominent facet of this continuing debate.


“Without a concise policy from the government, the tech companies are left to make decisions about the implications of the data they collect,” writes Jenn Leser at CBS. It’s that lack of a concise policy, and of social cohesion, that could doom digital efforts to rein in the virus.