So Google and Apple made an announcement yesterday. These two rivals are working together to enable global contact tracing in an apparently privacy preserving way. However, even the WIRED article acknowledges this may not be completely true. It is an improvement on using location tracking data, but still leaves some concerns unresolved. Moxie articulates them in this twitter thread.
My initial reaction to the articles has been that if I never turn bluetooth on when out in public (I never do currently) then the tracking won’t work. It appears they made the assumption that most people have wireless headphones and therefore bluetooth will be on.
There is no mention that I can find yet about when this ‘update’ will be turned off and the capability deleted.
I am glad to see some progress on the privacy front, but I’m still left wondering how does this help with the clear dependencies. Meaning, if we don’t increase availability of testing then we’ve just created the ability for a bunch of phones/devices to link with each other. Also, given that this is being created for IOS and Android, it is only for people with a smartphone – so not for the billions of people on the planet without one. Oh and just to be clear it is often the poorer and more vulnerable among us who don’t have smartphones. Combine that with testing, if testing is not free, than again is this just for the rich?
But let’s say the testing issue is resolved, we still have the challenge of health system capacity. As I mentioned previously, In South Sudan, there are 24 ICU beds and 4 ventilators in the entire country. 1 ventilator for every 2.5 million people. For comparison, in the UK there are now around 12,000 ventilators or 1 for every 5,500 people. Our health systems are already overwhelmed, so how does having more people flood the system because 5 days ago their phone was near another phone who’s owner now tested positive help the health system?
Some days I wonder why doesn’t Apple and Google take all the money and resources they are allocating to these efforts and either donate it to scaling the health systems globally. And also to marketing efforts to providing the general public with trustworthy, clear information. Maybe if they ‘walk the floor’ with the frontline workers in this response (not just in the Silicon Valley, but also in Juba, Kigali, the slums of Lagos, and the refugee camps in Bangladesh), perhaps they’d direct their efforts differently.