Ever since the outbreak of the novel CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) pandemic, numerous digital contact tracing platforms have been deployed worldwide. Detecting and isolating novel coronavirus cases is a priority to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. COVID-19 Countries throughout the world have been developing a plethora of phone tracking apps to help users report their symptoms and track the disease.
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However, what’s bothersome is that the use of smartphones to track people’s movements and trace the contacts of thousands of millions of citizens is not only unprecedented but also unproven. More upsettingly, there’s now evidence suggesting that the approach taken by most phone tracking apps is wrong. This is raising serious concerns for thousands and millions of users.
Even before Google and Apple announced a joint program of including a privacy-first contact tracing framework in updates to both Android and iOS, a different debate was taking place. Would the governments be using phone network data for tracking their people’s movements, without anyone installing an app? There was also talk of an international standard across the networks themselves.
But, afterward, Singapore launched its own “Trace Together” platform, making innovative use of Bluetooth proximity and inspiring citizens to download the app and play along. Pretty soon, countries throughout the world started jumping on the bandwagon and announced their plans to launch similar apps. However, the only problem is that the initial program in Singapore didn’t work.
Mainly, the problem with these apps lies with Bluetooth proximity. This has led to a central vs. de-central debate – if the central database of contacts is stored, virologists and epidemiologists can source the data for patterns and detect hotspots. However, this comes at the theoretical price of individual privacy. Since this is a national level surveillance scheme, it is not liked by all.
Cue Google and Apple. It is expected that the tech giants will solve these technical challenges and introduce an OS-level framework on which national apps can operate. What’s noteworthy is that these advantages will come at a hefty price. Privacy will come first and no data can be offloaded from user’s devices. There will even be a ban on storing location data.
With that being said, another major issue with these apps is behavioral. This is because not many people will install these apps and even if they do, most won’t comply with the instructions of getting tested or self-isolated unless they are mandated to do so.
On the other hand, one country has been quietly revisiting the initial debate of whether a country should make use of network tracking technologies to keep the spread of the pandemic in check. Benjamin Netanyahu – the Prime Minister of Israel, caused controversy by announcing that the nation will use network tracing technologies to fight the virus. But, just a month after its introduction, Israel’s Supreme Court stopped the domestic intelligence agency of the country from continuing without putting new legislation in place.
The irony here is that in the first few weeks when the use of technology was active, the COVID-19 network tracking approach proved very effective in detecting CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) cases. So, recently, the country has revisited its decision of turning off the capability. Since the approach significantly contributed to keeping the pandemic in check, ministers have approved the necessary draft legislation. It is believed this will reduce the spread of the virus.
So guys, you can either design a tracking program to mitigate the spread of the virus or put emphasis on safeguarding individual privacy concerns. It is evident that you can’t do both. Possibly, there will be a day when we will question why we let tech giants decide for us instead of the elected governments whom we hold accountable for whatever happens next.
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