On LinkedIn the other day I noticed a post claiming that Covid-19 tracker apps had been installed on everybody’s smartphone and that we were all being tracked.
Ok, so lets ignore the fact that we can be tracked via our phones anyway and look at what the fuss is about.
If I open up the settings on my OnePlus 6T Android phone I see a new item – ‘COVID-19 exposure notifications’. This is what some people are losing their minds about right now.
I on the other hand am not. Why not? Well, as a developer (web and mobile) I listen to numerous podcasts with presenters and guests who know what they are talking about and one such episode focused on the collaboration between Google and Apple to create the foundations for Covid-19 tracking app and roll it out to their phones during a standard update cycle.
In this episode, which non-techies will find boring as hell, security expert Steve Gibson analyses the technology and gives it the thumbs up from a security and privacy point of view. This is a man I trust when it comes to these things.
But here’s the thing that you may have missed – this is the foundation for app development, it is NOT a tracking app itself.
If people bothered to tap on the above settings option to open and read the details, instead of taking screenshots, posting them on LinkedIn (and probably Facebook and Twitter) claiming that something underhanded is going on, then they would have seen that this functionality is only activated when a compatible application is installed.
There’s other information there too which may have reassured them (or not) and a link for them to find out even more about this functionality.
In case you are concerned that someone could create an app and secretly access this functionality for nefarious reasons, not just any Tom, Dick or Harry can knock up Covid-19 Tracking App using this API.
Only third party companies affiliated with a public health authority or government can use it and that will be tightly controlled by Apple and Google.
So what do I do now?
Frankly, nothing. There is nothing you can do to remove this nor is there any need for you to do so. If you don’t install a tracking app, this functionality won’t be activated on your phone. Simple as that.
If you don’t trust Google or Apple (or your Government) then you probably want to think about changing your phone to something a bit less “smart”. As an aside….
Above I linked out to the Security Now podcast with Steve Gibson where he gave the thumbs up to the technology.
A later podcast is entitled “Contact Tracing Apps RIP” where he explains that while the technology is sound, the system will probably not work in the real world.
Why is this?
Well, research suggests that for the system to work effectively it would need at least 80% of the population to install it on their devices – and if the above hysteria is anything to go by, that’s just not going to happen.
I’ll leave it there….