Covid phone tracking

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Tessa K
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Covid phone tracking

Post by Tessa K » Mon Apr 13, 2020 1:31 pm

Apologies if this has been covered in another thread.

There is now talk about tracking people's movements through their smart phones and notifying anyone they've been in contact with through bluetooth and an app as well as making sure they're not meeting up in groups.

Bearing in mind I don't know all the technical stuff, what do people think? Obviously there are privacy and data protection issues but how well would it work? Would it think that if you walked past someone in the street that you'd had contact? There is talk of making signing up to the app a condition of being allowed out - what about people who don't have smart phones? A lot of people on low incomes, older people and anti social people like me don't have them (I have a phone, just not a smart one)?

It was said on Radio 4 earlier that at least 60% of people need to sign up to make this work.
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by bob sterman » Mon Apr 13, 2020 2:05 pm

Loads of problems with it. E.g.

Unless you're going to be regularly swabbing and testing a huge proportion of the population - surely it'll be based on self-reported symptoms. So you'll be getting contact alerts because you passed someone at Tesco who later reported a cough (that wasn't caused by COVID-19).

Bluetooth proximity detection works through walls - and between vehicles. So it may register me as having been in contact with a neighbour or someone in a (slowly) passing car. And what if you live next to a GP? Everyone walking into the surgery will show up as a contact as you sit in your living room.

And with self-reported COVID-19 status you get trolling - say I'm a big United fan, perhaps when football restarts I'll go and spend a lot of time at the City end of a football ground getting nice and close to lots of City supporters. Then report having COVID-19 - so that hundreds of City supporters will get instructions to self-isolate. Or maybe a jealous partner could use the same technique to force someone to self-isolate.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 13, 2020 2:43 pm

I agree, it would make sense if mass testing were freely available and only a very small minority were infected. If so, people could be informed that they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive, and be urged to get tested themselves. If the app could provide information on when and where the contact occurred then presumably it would be possible to ignore things like being next door to a GP's surgery.

But I doubt that it would help in the UK right now.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by apogee » Mon Apr 13, 2020 4:07 pm

Like this?
'..In countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea ordinary people can track the movements of fellow citizens with the virus and receive text alerts if they come near...'

https://www.newstatesman.com/science-te ... ance-state

It sounded pretty alarming when I read it, especially when combined with the powers and inclinations, facial recognition systems etc of States like China and Russia.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by raven » Tue Apr 14, 2020 11:09 pm

Probably just like that because someone's realised those countries are doing much better than we are & thought, I know, let's copy what they did.... Taiwan was doing it without an app, btw, just triagulating your position from your phone, according to this: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52017993

All those countries were much more in control from the start, so I don't quite see how the UK introducing an app like that now, when we've got already lots of cases and not enough testing to coping, is going to work.But hey ho, Hancock seems to be in love with everything digital. Even the NHS volunteers army seems to running via an app called Good Sam.

Guardian story focused on privacy concerns here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/ ... -response

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by apogee » Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:17 am

'Paul Huang, a local freelance journalist who was working abroad, decided to not go back to Taiwan because of surveillance fears.

"The government openly stated your phone will be digitally tracked to enforce quarantine - in the same way the authority usually tracks suspected criminals," he explained.

"Except this time they don't have or need a court-issued warrant to spy on your phone.

"You are being suspected of a crime by virtue of having travelled overseas."'

Are we entering an era in which we take for granted that even Western states, which supposedly accept concepts like individual liberty and data privacy can and in practice do listen to us, track us, record and analyse everything we do, if some arm of government believes they have reason to?

Once this kind of technology has been deployed in response to a viral pandemic what chance is there it will be switched off?

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Tessa K » Wed Apr 15, 2020 9:10 am

raven wrote:
Tue Apr 14, 2020 11:09 pm
But hey ho, Hancock seems to be in love with everything digital. Even the NHS volunteers army seems to running via an app called Good Sam.
I heard on the radio that very few of the volunteers have been given jobs because the system couldn't cope with the volume of people, all of whom have to be safety checked and then matched with someone local. Anyone who wants to volunteer would be better off using the local COVID support groups on Facebook where people offer and request help. There's no vetting but it is much more immediate.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Apr 15, 2020 12:04 pm

apogee wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:17 am
Are we entering an era in which we take for granted that even Western states, which supposedly accept concepts like individual liberty and data privacy can and in practice do listen to us, track us, record and analyse everything we do, if some arm of government believes they have reason to?

Once this kind of technology has been deployed in response to a viral pandemic what chance is there it will be switched off?
This is the thing. The technology already exists and is already being used, primarily by the private sector to sell us ads. We also know that GCHQ, NSA et al are accessing things they're not supposed to.

I'd argue that the problem comes when governments use this data, given that they've already had access to it for yonks and few folk care. The issue isn't turning off the technology, because Google et al will still be using it, it's public acceptance of its use by the government to restrict individuals' freedoms.

Personally, in this particular case, in isolation, I'm not bothered, and it's hard to imagine many other cases where aggregate data of people's locations would be that useful. "Leave your phone at home" is already advice given to activists and protestors for precisely this reason.
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Tessa K » Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:30 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 12:04 pm
apogee wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:17 am
Are we entering an era in which we take for granted that even Western states, which supposedly accept concepts like individual liberty and data privacy can and in practice do listen to us, track us, record and analyse everything we do, if some arm of government believes they have reason to?

Once this kind of technology has been deployed in response to a viral pandemic what chance is there it will be switched off?
This is the thing. The technology already exists and is already being used, primarily by the private sector to sell us ads. We also know that GCHQ, NSA et al are accessing things they're not supposed to.

I'd argue that the problem comes when governments use this data, given that they've already had access to it for yonks and few folk care. The issue isn't turning off the technology, because Google et al will still be using it, it's public acceptance of its use by the government to restrict individuals' freedoms.

Personally, in this particular case, in isolation, I'm not bothered, and it's hard to imagine many other cases where aggregate data of people's locations would be that useful. "Leave your phone at home" is already advice given to activists and protestors for precisely this reason.
Hancock said the data wouldn't be stored after the pandemic but at what point will the government decide it's over? and yeah, right.

I don't have a smart phone so presumably I can't be tracked - or at least not in the same way. Can you be tracked through texting and calls? Presumably not when you're not making a call. It does have bluetooth but I've never turned it on.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by shpalman » Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:47 pm

The network operator's system always knows which cell your phone is in, as long as it's in a condition in which it can receive calls and messages.
molto tricky

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Tessa K » Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:51 pm

shpalman wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:47 pm
The network operator's system always knows which cell your phone is in, as long as it's in a condition in which it can receive calls and messages.
Roughly how wide an area does that cover in central London?

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Gfamily » Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:51 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:30 pm

I don't have a smart phone so presumably I can't be tracked - or at least not in the same way. Can you be tracked through texting and calls? Presumably not when you're not making a call. It does have bluetooth but I've never turned it on.
Any switched on phone can be located to an approximate location on the basis of which cell network mast it is nearest to (your phone constantly sends a 'can your hear?' me signal so your provider knows where to send calls when someone calls you).
I think it probable that two more local masts may be in range, which gives an element of triangulation to potentially narrow down your location further.
Using WiFi allows a much more precise location, as Google has captured the SSIDs of routers, and GPS on your phone can give an even better location.
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by tenchboy » Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:53 pm

Whoever w'd have thought that leaving your phone at home w'd be considered an act of subversion?

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Apr 15, 2020 2:51 pm

tenchboy wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:53 pm
Whoever w'd have thought that leaving your phone at home w'd be considered an act of subversion?
Even the most dystopian writers didn't think people would voluntarily carry tracking chips with them everywhere they go. The future is an interesting place :)
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Apr 15, 2020 2:55 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:30 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 12:04 pm
apogee wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:17 am
Are we entering an era in which we take for granted that even Western states, which supposedly accept concepts like individual liberty and data privacy can and in practice do listen to us, track us, record and analyse everything we do, if some arm of government believes they have reason to?

Once this kind of technology has been deployed in response to a viral pandemic what chance is there it will be switched off?
This is the thing. The technology already exists and is already being used, primarily by the private sector to sell us ads. We also know that GCHQ, NSA et al are accessing things they're not supposed to.

I'd argue that the problem comes when governments use this data, given that they've already had access to it for yonks and few folk care. The issue isn't turning off the technology, because Google et al will still be using it, it's public acceptance of its use by the government to restrict individuals' freedoms.

Personally, in this particular case, in isolation, I'm not bothered, and it's hard to imagine many other cases where aggregate data of people's locations would be that useful. "Leave your phone at home" is already advice given to activists and protestors for precisely this reason.
Hancock said the data wouldn't be stored after the pandemic but at what point will the government decide it's over? and yeah, right.

I don't have a smart phone so presumably I can't be tracked - or at least not in the same way. Can you be tracked through texting and calls? Presumably not when you're not making a call. It does have bluetooth but I've never turned it on.
Phones are generally in constant communication with multiple towers, so their location can be triangulated pretty accurately. For at least a decade researchers have used data from non-smart phones to look at the spread of diseases in the developing world.

They do this thing on shows like CSI all the time. The difference is they pretend it takes 30 seconds of calling to trace a phone, whereas in reality it just needs to have signal.

The only thing is, I can't imagine why, under normal circumstances, the government would particularly care where people in general are going. They already can and do track people of interest this way.
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by apogee » Wed Apr 15, 2020 10:54 pm

To me, there are two separate but related issues: one is the idea of governments passing private information about individual citizens to others who might be affected in a negative way by them. What are the limits of that? I can't argue with it in this example but once you've established that precedent, what else does it apply to?

The other is the issue of the amount of data about ourselves and our behaviours and actions that can be and increasingly is being recorded; whether there's any way to opt out of it, and whether even wanting to opt out of it very soon will seem to put the person under suspicion.

'.."We are constantly checking that this regulation is being observed, including through the use of automated facial recognition systems," Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote in his blog in February.

The Russian capital already had a tight network of 170,000 security cameras, set up in streets and metro stations throughout the city over the past decade.

Around 100,000 have now been linked to artificial intelligence systems that can identify people being filmed. The remaining cameras are due to be connected soon.

Moscow police said last week that the cameras that are linked have allowed them to identify almost 200 people who broke quarantine rules.'

https://www.msn.com/en-sg/news/world/fo ... r-BB11BR8I

Face recognition, gait recognition, phone call, SMS and messaging monitoring for key words and phrases, internet use monitoring are all real and as computing power and storage capacity increase, easier and more automatable. Maybe it isn't something to be scared of but maybe I only say that because I live in a relatively free democracy.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Apr 15, 2020 11:35 pm

Google has automatic facial recognition and geolocation of photos too. Globally.
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Apr 17, 2020 6:52 am

Info on tracking apps in

Australia
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/ ... now-so-far

Germany
https://money.yahoo.com/virus-tracing-a ... cvgBBylbz1

Singapore
https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/ ... -do-so-for

The rationale for the Singapore app is:
Mr Wong explained that the app is useful because relying on a person's memory during contact tracing takes time and can lead to lapses. The app will be a better way to "track down all that the person has been to, and the close contacts, then the ability to catch all of the close contacts would be much more comprehensive and faster", he said.

"If we had the app, if once that infected person was identified through the app, you would know who are the close contacts and immediate action could have been taken right away," Mr Wong said.
It would seem to be useful as a way to improve mass testing.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Imrael » Fri Apr 17, 2020 7:11 am

It does seem a bit naive to assume that
1. Governments dont already have and test a lot of this capability
2. Deletion and monitoring happen as promised and never get compromised
3. Gait/face/etc recognition wont increase in prevalence

I'm more concerned that the extended policing powers to limit movement, stop and question (and search?) and spot fine wont get put back in the box after they are needed. I suppose it comes down to trust - I'm not instinctively trusting of authority but we (UK) are a notional democracy, and not in the same league as China for repression or Russia for - well - quite a few things.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by tenchboy » Fri Apr 17, 2020 10:35 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 2:51 pm
tenchboy wrote:
Wed Apr 15, 2020 1:53 pm
Whoever w'd have thought that leaving your phone at home w'd be considered an act of subversion?
Even the most dystopian writers didn't think people would voluntarily carry tracking chips with them everywhere they go. The future is an interesting place :)
Not so difficult to imagine when you remember that, for while, until some of them realised that it might have had some thing to do with their being so easily found out, that some of the younger ones were filming their crimes and posting them on their facebooks.
And maybe still are.

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 27, 2020 6:14 am

It took five hours for Australians to download the COVIDSafe app at a rate the Government expected would take five days.

The app was released at 6:00pm AEST on Sunday and by 10:30pm 1 million Australians had downloaded it.

"At 6:00am, it was 1.13 million Australians who had downloaded the app," Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday morning.

"We got the first million within five hours. We had been hoping, our best hope, was we might get to 1 million in five days."
Downloading the app is voluntary but the Government has previously said 40 per cent of Australians — or 10 million people — need to take up the contact-tracing app for it to be a success.

Health, business and union leaders joined forces on Sunday to call on Australians to download the app.

And politicians across the political spectrum have offered their support, with many taking to social media to post screenshots of the downloaded app.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had not downloaded it but planned to do so later today.

The state's Health Minister Steven Miles told ABC Radio Brisbane he was also yet to download the app and would seek his own "advice" to assure himself of its safety.

"I've heard those assurances from the Federal Government so I'm sure all of those measures are in place," he said.

"But I think Queenslanders would want me to be able to tell them that I really was confident in those things so I want to take some time to have a look at it."

Source code to be released within weeks
Digital rights advocates have called for the source code to be made public so the inner workings of the app can be scrutinised.

Mr Hunt said Australia would follow other countries such as Singapore in making that code public.

"The source code will be released within two weeks," he said.

"The reason for that is that there's a constant review of the safety and security.

"Our first task is to make sure the security assessment is done and that there is absolute protection of privacy above all else."

Labor's health spokesman Chris Bowen, who has downloaded the app, said he accepted the Government's decision on the coding.

"I'm prepared to take the Government on good faith on that if that's what they're working through," he said.

"Of course it should be released, but if they need a little bit of time to sort that through and work out how much should be released then I'm prepared to give them that."

[...]

COVIDSafe uses Bluetooth to record anonymised IDs from users who are within 1.5 metres of each other for about 15 minutes.

It aims to identify those exposed to COVID-19 once someone is diagnosed.

Those with Android smartphones can use their devices normally while the app runs in the background.

However, if an iPhone is in low-power mode, it may affect the ability to track contacts, according to a spokesperson for Government Services Minister Stuart Robert.

It has also been suggested the iPhone app may not work effectively if too many other Bluetooth apps are running.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-27/ ... s/12187806

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 27, 2020 6:17 am

France's privacy watchdog CNIL on Sunday gave a conditional green light to a government-backed scheme to monitor people infected with coronavirus.

The issue of how to keep tabs on sufferers has sparked privacy concerns in several countries but the CNIL gave the nod to the StopCovid scheme subject to civil liberty guarantees and regular oversight.

The French device will, if the country is to begin a gradual emergence from lockdown on May 11, enable creation of an index of sufferers via a smartphone app along the lines of a model touted notably by Singapore.

The idea is to send an alert to those who have downloaded the app if they come into close proximity, for example, on public transport, with those who have tested positive for the new coronavirus and who are on the app register.

A number of European countries are considering using similar technology as a means of allowing a relaxing of confinement.
https://www.thelocal.fr/20200426/privac ... racing-app

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Apr 27, 2020 6:19 am

Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement that Berlin would adopt a “decentralised” approach to digital contact tracing, thus abandoning a home-grown alternative that would have given health authorities central control over tracing data.

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth “handshakes” between mobile devices as the best way of registering a potential contact, even though it does not provide location data.

But they have disagreed about whether to log such contacts on individual devices or on a central server - which would be more directly useful to existing contact tracing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those who may be at risk.

Under the decentralised approach, users could opt to share their phone number or details of their symptoms - making it easier for health authorities to get in touch and give advice on the best course of action in the event they are found to be at risk.

This consent would be given in the app, however, and not be part of the system’s central architecture.

APPLE REFUSED TO BUDGE
Germany as recently as Friday backed a centralised standard called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), which would have needed Apple in particular to change the settings on its iPhones.

When Apple refused to budge there was no alternative but to change course, said a senior government source.

In their joint statement, Braun and Spahn said Germany would now adopt a “strongly decentralised” approach.

“This app should be voluntary, meet data protection standards and guarantee a high level of IT security,” they said. “The main epidemiological goal is to recognise and break chains of infection as soon as possible.”

Bluetooth-based smartphone contact tracing operates by assessing the closeness and length of contact between people and, if a person tests positive for COVID-19, telling recent contacts to call a doctor, get tested or self-isolate.

Early results in countries such as Singapore are modest, however, especially when set against the technology’s potential to redefine the relationship between state and individual.

An open letter from hundreds of scientists published last Monday warned that, if the contact tracing data was centralised, it would allow “unprecedented surveillance of society at large”.

The tide was already running against PEPP-PT and its main backer, German tech entrepreneur Chris Boos, as collaborators pulled out, faulting its methodology and its slowness to open up its work to wider scrutiny.

“GRAVE ERRORS”
One of the members of PEPP-PT, Germany’s Fraunhofer HHI research institute, was told on Saturday that it had been taken off the project, correspondence seen by Reuters showed.

“A series of grave errors were made by PEPP-PT regarding communication that, at the end of the day, caused serious damage and led to this decision,” Fraunhofer HHI head Thomas Wiegand said in a message to colleagues.

Germany’s reversal brings it into line with a proposal by Apple and Google, who said this month they would develop new tools to support decentralised contact tracing. In Europe, France and Britain still back centralisation.

Centralised apps would not work properly on Apple’s iPhone because, for Bluetooth exchanges to happen, the device would need to be unlocked with the app running in the foreground - a drain on the battery and an inconvenience to the user.

But the iPhone will integrate with decentralised protocols such as DP-3T, which has been developed by a Swiss-led team and has been backed by Switzerland, Austria and Estonia.

Backers of DP-3T, short for Decentralised Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, say it is still possible for users voluntarily to opt in to sharing their phone number in order to pass epidemiologically useful data - although not location - to authorities to aid contact tracing. But this would be part of an app, not of the system architecture.

DP-3T, in a statement, welcomed Germany’s change of heart. PEPP-PT did not respond to requests for comment.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-heal ... SKCN22807J

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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Apr 27, 2020 12:36 pm

Thanks Chops.

The Bluetooth handshake approach is interesting - much more conservative of privacy than recording everyone's location, and more accurate in terms of proximity too (as long as you leave Bluetooth on all the time and have enough battery).
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Re: Covid phone tracking

Post by lpm » Tue May 05, 2020 10:30 am

I know it's The Register, which can be sh.t, but this was interesting on the UK NHS branded app. Move to the Isle of Wight to experience it now.

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/05/0 ... virus_app/
Britain is sleepwalking into another coronavirus disaster by failing to listen to global consensus and expert analysis with the release of the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracking app.

... there are broadly two types of coronavirus contact-tracing apps; those that are centralized [NHS app, Australia] and those that are decentralized [Apple and Google].

[The NHS centralised apporach that allows] health service experts to have access to all the data is a good idea for beating back the virus. “The health authority can use risk modelling to decide which contacts are most at risk, and then notify them to take some action,” he noted, adding: “Importantly, the public health authority has anonymous data to help it understand how the disease appears to be spreading, and has the anonymous contact graphs to carry out some analysis.

The argument is that while the Apple-Google decentralized model protects people’s privacy, it leaves the authorities blind. It puts a public health disaster outside the reach of those who can help most through analysis of the population.

...

But there is a problem with the NHS's approach: it probably won't that well work on your phone, and probably won't be terribly accurate at measuring the spread of the virus... The operating systems [iOS and Android] won't allow the tracing application to broadcast its ID via Bluetooth to surrounding devices when it's running in the background and not in active use.

That means that unless people have the NHS app running in the foreground and their phones awake most of the time, the fundamental principle underpinning the entire system – that phones detect each other – won’t work.

It will work if people open the app and leave it open and the phone unlocked. But if you close it and forget to reopen it, or the phone falls asleep, the app will not broadcast its ID and no other phones around you will register that you've been close by.

We cannot state it plainer: on iPhones, apps cannot send out their IDs via Bluetooth when the software is in the background, and on newer Android builds, IDs cannot be transmitted after a few minutes in the background.

By contrast, the Apple-Google solution that Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland, among others, are following will allow the IDs of phones to be recorded in the background all the time, due to being built into the operating system, so it will be more accurate and kinder to battery life.
I don't necessarily mind giving away a lot of privacy and letting the govt own data on me. After all, I'm currently giving away a lot of freedom of movement to fight the pandemic. But why would I give away privacy for something that works poorly? And how can the govt think people will happily leave the app always on and draining the phone battery?
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