It’s not often that Google and Apple work together. But since the pandemic, they have found common ground by adding a tracing feature to their cell phone operating systems that will work with government/health department apps being developed. When the apps are added to phones, people’s movements will be traced, and phones will record if you have been close enough to an infected person to become infected yourself.
Here’s what the information on the Apple iOS 13.5 update said:
“iOS 13.5 speeds up access to the passcode field on devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask and introduces the Exposure Notification API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities.”
Since I have automatic updates set up, my phone had already downloaded the new version of the operating system, and said it would be installed tonight, presumably while I sleep. Frankly, I’d rather have it installed while I’m awake, so I chose the option to install it immediately. After installation was done, I went into my settings to see where this tracing app was. The first thing I noticed was that my bluetooth had been turned on during the updating, despite the fact that I keep it consistently off.
After turning the bluetooth back off, I scrolled down the settings, taking a peek in each area of the list. I got to “privacy” and took an extra-good look. Under bluetooth, I found the “COVID-19 Exposure Logging” switch. The explanation said, “When enabled, iPhone is exchanging random IDs with other devices using Bluetooth. This enables an app to notify you if you may have been exposed to COVID-19.”
When I tapped on “COVID-19 Exposure Logging”, which was off by default, it lead to a page that said you have to have an authorized app installed for Exposure Logging to work.
Tapping on “learn more”, you get to the nitty-gritty of things. If you get a government app that works with exposure logging, your bluetooth will broadcast out a number signal that is created randomly. Other phones that have exposure logging activated will also send out a signal. If you get close, each phone will record the other phone you’re close to. They say they will not divulge your identity. The metadata is recorded and stored by the government or the health department, and if someone gets infected with the coronavirus, they can see who was close enough to that person to catch it, and notify them. And as always, Apple and Google promise to respect your privacy.
Forgive me for being skeptical, but the government doesn’t exactly have a stellar record for keeping your information private and deleting it as soon as possible. They will likely store every bit of metadata indefinitely. Privacy is kind of like virginity – once you give it away, you never get it back…