Apple and Google have a smart way to encourage people to install COVID-19 contact finder apps


Last week, Apple and Google surprised us by announcing that the companies were implementing a system for large-scale contact tracing to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort is barely two and a half weeks old, according to the companies, so there are many open questions about how it will work. On Monday afternoon, companies invited us to call and ask questions, and I joined the group and I did.

The basic idea is that as the courts flatten the infection curve and begin to consider reopening parts of society, they must implement a comprehensive “test and trace” program. You want to test the disease extensively and thoroughly, as explained in this Monday’s Umair Irfan article. And then, as you discover new cases, you want to see who these people may have come in contact with during the time they were infectious.

Historically, this has been a manual process. Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, some countries have turned to technological means to enable public health authorities to find more people who may have been exposed and to do so more effectively. So far, it’s not clear that technology-based contact tracking has been so effective. The system is based on voluntary participation, which has generally been weak. And the Bluetooth technology on which the system depends has a high potential for false positives: it is simply not powerful enough to distinguish cases where people were very close to those in which they were 15 feet or more.

My main interest in this story – beyond the very unusual nature of the collaboration between Apple and Google – is its effectiveness. But there are many other questions about how it works that I find just as interesting. Let’s see what people are saying and what we have learned today.

The biggest concern expressed by most people about this collaboration is that it will lead to privacy invasions. Democratic senators led the charge here, sending an open letter to businesses expressing their fears. I am less worried. On the one hand, the Apple and Google system is cleverly designed to maximize individual privacy; it avoids capturing location data and instead saves only the proximity of your smartphone to that of someone else. And for another, I enjoy my own privacy less during a public health emergency. I trust Apple and Google to prevent my personal health information from being identified as mine and shared with others, but given the design of the system, I don’t see how a violation would be catastrophic even if it somehow materialized.

However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to think about the worst-case scenarios, my colleague Russell Brandom reviews some ideas on how the data collected under this system could theoretically be anonymized. The schemes are generally so elaborate that it is difficult for me to imagine even a nation state undertaking them, although this is something to watch out for.

The second set of concerns relates to how the system will work in practice. Apple and Google have answered many questions about this today; this is what I considered most important.

First, companies have stated that in the second phase of their efforts, when contact tracing is enabled at the operating system level, they will inform those who have opted for their potential exposure to COVID-19 even if they have not downloaded the corresponding application from their public health authority. I understand that the operating system itself will alert people that they may have been exposed and direct them to the download of the appropriate public health application. This is important because it can be difficult to get people to install software; Singapore experienced only 12% adoption of its national contact search application. Placing notifications at the system level is a major step forward for this effort, although people still need to adhere to them.

Second, Google has announced that it will distribute the operating system update through Google Play services, a part of Android controlled by the company that allows it to reach the majority of active devices. (Google says it will be available to anyone using Android 6.0, also known as Marshmallow, and higher on devices that have the Google Play store.) It’s much better than relying on operators, who have always been slow to distribute updates. It remains to be seen exactly which devices will be eligible for the update, on Android as well as on iOS. But it seems likely that businesses will be able to reach most of the world’s active devices – a significant achievement. (Related: someone asked businesses what percentage of the population we need to use the system to make it work. No one knows.)

Third, the companies said they would prevent abuse of the system by sending the alerts through public health agencies. (They also help these agencies, such as the National Health Service of Great Britain, create apps for this purpose.) While the details are still being worked out and may vary from agency to agency, Apple and Google have said they recognize the importance of not allowing people to raise alerts based on unverified allegations of COVID-19 infection. Instead, they said, those diagnosed will receive a unique code from the public health agency, which newly diagnosed patients will have to enter to trigger the alert.

Fourth, the companies promised to use the system only for contact tracing and to dismantle the network when appropriate. Some readers have asked me if the system can be used for other purposes, such as targeted advertising, or if non-governmental organizations can access it. Apple and Google have explicitly said no today.

Fifth, I have heard conflicting claims about the ability of Bluetooth-based tracking to measure distances. Last week, I told you that Bluetooth could not distinguish between phones that were within six feet of each other, contrary to the advice of public health agencies, and those that could be 20 or even 30 feet apart. A reader pointed out to me a part of the Bluetooth standard known as received signal strength indication, or RSSI, which is said to provide precise location details.

Apple told me that the effectiveness of RSSI was blunted by a variety of confounding factors: the orientation of the devices relative to each other, whether a phone is in a backpack or signal-insensitive, etc. Taken together, these factors undermine the system’s confidence in the distance between two phones. But it continues to be a subject of exploration.

So to conclude: do we feel more or less optimistic today about technology-based contact tracing than before? This post from security researcher Ross Anderson this weekend sets out many of the concerns I shared for the first time here last week, as well as a few more. “I suspect that tracing applications are really just things to do,” writes Anderson. “Most countries now seem to have passed the point where contact tracing is a high priority; even Singapore had to lock out. “

On the other hand, says Ben Thompson, it may be worth laying the technology foundation now for increased efforts later. He writes:

“They create an option. When and if the company decides that this type of monitoring is acceptable (and, above all, builds the other elements – such as testing – of an effective response), the technology will be ready; this is just a flip of a switch for Apple and Google to centralize this data (or, perhaps as common ground, activate the mobile device management software used by businesses, centralize this capacity) . It is not an easy task since the software cannot be built overnight. “

I still think digital tracing of contacts is unlikely to be one of the two or three most important aspects of a country’s coronavirus response plan. Experts have told me that social distance, large-scale testing and isolation of sick people are much more important. And when it comes to tracking contacts, we know that humans often do a better job than smartphones – and some have argued that we have to hire hundreds of thousands to do the job.

At the same time, it is possible to see how digital tracing of contacts could at least complement other related efforts, including manual tracing of contacts. Compared to what, according to Hong Kong, done to test and trace, distributing digital tracking bracelets to everyone who gets off the plane at the airport, what Apple and Google have proposed can only be described as a half measure. But in the United States at least, a series of half measures may be all we have to rely on.

The report

Today, in the news that could affect the public perception of major technology platforms.

⬆️Upward trend: Oncologists say getting some of their best information lately Twitter, and some are even outsourcing answers to difficult questions from other doctors.

⬇️ Downward trend: Quarantined Amazon workers say they have not yet been paid, despite the company’s new policy on quarantine sick leave. The company says workers will ultimately be paid.


Amazon hires 75,000 additional workers after filling more than 100,000 positions in the past month. The hiring spree aims to help the company meet increased demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, Annie Palmer told CNBC:

As it continues to hire more workers, Amazon has also increased hourly wages for employees and doubled overtime wages for warehouse workers. Until the end of April, warehouse and delivery workers can earn an additional $ 2 in the United States, 2 pounds an hour in the United Kingdom, and about 2 euros an hour in many countries around the world. ‘EU. Amazon currently pays $ 15 per hour or more in some areas of the United States for warehouse and delivery work.

Amazon has announced several benefits changes in addition to salary increases. The company has authorized workers to take unlimited leave without pay and provides two weeks of paid leave for workers who have tested positive or are in quarantine.

Amazon will begin the waitlist for new grocery delivery customers and reduce shopping hours at select Whole Foods stores. The move aims to prioritize orders from existing customers who purchase food online during the coronavirus outbreak. (Meanwhile, people have used scripts downloaded from Github to find available delivery slots.) (Krystal Hu / Reuters)

After the Staten Island walkout, Amazon finally began to check the temperature of workers entering the warehouse, apply social distancing rules and pilot a fog disinfectant. But some say the deployment of the new security measures has been uneven. Often changes are not made until workers have exerted pressure. (Josh Dzieza / The edge)

Here is what new Amazon workers have to say about work during the pandemic. “I feel like this job is essential because people need childbirth, but it is also essential for me because I need money to feed my family,” said one. of them. (Louise Matsakis / Wired)

Amazon was already powerful. But with 250,000 US stores closed due to the pandemic, the company is poised to become even more dominant each time the economy returns to normal. (Jason Del Rey / Recode)

The coronavirus is piloting new surveillance systems in at least 28 countries around the world. OneZero follows the expansion of these programs, some of which invade privacy. (And some of them are pretty ho-hum projects that aggregate anonymized data.) (Dave Gershgorn / OneZero)

The Supreme Court will begin oral hearings by teleconference, a major change spurred by the new coronavirus pandemic. It will also broadcast a live audio stream – another first for the court. (Adi Robertson / The edge)

The US economy will not return to normal soon, according to think tanks and public policy research centers. The groups have plans on how to reopen the US economy, and everyone says that without a vaccine, ending social distance will be incredibly difficult. (Ezra Klein / Vox)

President Donald trump promoted the antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for the new coronavirus. So far, there is not enough evidence to say whether they actually work. (And a study into their effectiveness was halted Monday due to the risk of life-threatening heart complications.) Trump’s comments, which have been covered in the mainstream press, show that misinformation is not just a problem for the media. social. (Adi Robertson / The edge)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been instrumental in spreading false information about the origins of the new coronavirus. The move is part of his broader efforts to discredit the West and destroy its internal enemies. (William J. Broad / The New York Times)

In China, state media and influential diplomats are also pushing disinformation about the origins of COVID-19. By doing so, they are legitimizing rumors from the nooks and crannies of the Internet – and ensuring mass awareness of these ideas. (Renée DiResta / Atlantic)

The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms informed the offices that Zoom poses a high risk to privacy and could leave their data and systems exposed. The chief of law enforcement has urged legislators and their staff to use Skype instead. (Cristiano M.Lima / Politico)

Google makes changes to search results to make it easier to find virtual healthcare options. Virtual health care providers have experienced increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jay Peters / The edge)

Google launched a website dedicated to coronavirus updates in India. The company also changed its search engine and Youtube to prominently display reliable information about the pandemic. (Manish Singh / TechCrunch)

Google has created an application portal to help New York State cope with a historic increase in unemployment claims. The company said it could also provide a similar service to other states. It’s cool! (Jennifer Elias / CNBC)

The coronavirus pandemic has helped Google take a step ahead of its competitors by bringing its technology into the classroom. Google Classroom, a free service used by teachers to send homework and communicate with students, has doubled the number of active users to more than 100 million since the beginning of March. (Gerrit De Vynck and Mark Bergen / Bloomberg)

Apple The cards will soon display COVID-19 test sites as part of the company’s broader efforts to fight the new coronavirus. (Benjamin Mayo / 9To5Mac)

WhatsApp rolled out its message transfer modification to prevent the spread of misinformation. Now viral messages can only be sent to one person at a time. (Rita El Khoury / Android Police)

Youtube traffic is skyrocketing, but creators are still struggling. In fact, advertising prices dropped considerably during the coronavirus pandemic. (Chris Stokel-Walker / OneZero)

Related: The esports audience is skyrocketing, but the coronavirus has slowed down the advertising market and made it very difficult to capitalize on these viewers. (Seb Joseph / Digiday)

The coronavirus has ravaged the US job market, but large tech companies, including Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, always hire. Facebook plans to fill more than 10,000 product and engineering roles to help keep up with increasing traffic. (Chip Cutter and Patrick Thomas / Wall Street newspaper)

More and more viewers are watching online streaming sexual performances due to the quarantine of coronaviruses. But the models still don’t win more. They say the new viewers don’t rock too, and that there is a lot of competition. (Gabrielle Drolet / The New York Times)

People are being dumped on Zoom. And yes, we apparently call the trend “Zumping”. ((The Guardian)

Virus tracker

Total number of cases in the United States: At least 579,001

Total number of deaths in the United States: Over 23,000

Cases reported in California: 24,032

Cases reported in New York: 195 031

Cases reported in New Jersey: 64,584

Cases reported in Massachusetts: 26,420

Data from The New York Times.


Federal Court of Appeal Relaunched National Litigation Accusing Facebook violate users’ privacy rights by tracking their activity on the Internet even after logging out of the social media platform. Users can now file multiple complaints under federal and California privacy and wiretapping laws. (Jonathan Stempel / Reuters)

Facebook has filed a lawsuit against Basant Gajjar for allegedly providing software and concealment services designed to bypass automated ad review systems to serve deceptive ads on Facebook and Instagram. (Facebook)


Instagram updated the IGTV app to promote creators of long videos. The home page now offers a creator at the top, adapted to each user according to their subscribers. The app also receives a Discover tab. (Ashley Carman / The edge)

Instagram deployed access to Web DMs globally. Now everyone can view and send messages on the web. (Ashley Carman / The edge)

Things to do

Tips to keep you busy online during quarantine.

Watch the remote episode of Saturday Night Live, played Zoom. The video platform ended up playing a prominent role in the show, with constant jokes that ended with Zoom punchlines and an impressive Weekend Update segment made using productivity software. (Julia Alexander / The edge)

Apple makes a selection of original Apple TV Plus shows for free to help with the ongoing quarantine. The free collection is available now via this link in the United States. Unfortunately, The Morning Show, which is the only Apple original I have watched, is not part of the collection. (Thomas Ricker / The edge)

“Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Radiohead and Metallica all post invisible, rare or archived material in the midst of coronavirus locking,” reports Mark Beech on Forbes. I watched a Radiohead 2008 concert recently released this weekend and it was great!

These good tweets

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