Can you have both contact tracing *and* privacy?

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amiliv

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How much privacy you give away if you use contact tracing app on your phone? Turns out, you can have the cake and eat it at the same time.

 

cwbullet

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We do contract tracing a lot. We maintain privacy even if we use the phone.

Even with STDs, I do nto tell them who they caught it from. People just figure it out.
 

Marc_G

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Steven

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I've never downloaded anything on my phone. I've yet to use my phone this year.
 

amiliv

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I've never downloaded anything on my phone. I've yet to use my phone this year.
That's genearlly good choice, as most apps are just attention seeking distractions. I have no "social networking" apps on my phone. I used to, deleted them all. And most apps that I do have for various practical reasons, I have all or most notifications disabled (Android makes this trivial, and if you habitually swipe notifications for some app instead of opening the app, it'll even prompt to silence them after couple of times).

But once these contact tracing apps become available, it's something to consider having on your phone. They'll warn you if you spent prolonged period of time in close proximity to somebody who tested positive. This in turn allows you to protect people around you, if you got unlucky to catch the virus. AFAICT, one of the first contact tracing apps is currently under testing in Switzerland, and expected to be available mid-June.
 

Steven

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I've never needed technology to determine such things for 60 years and I'm not changing that now. I've been inside since Feb. 26th and don't mind one bit. There's more than one way to skin a cat.
 

modeltrains

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modeltrains

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also in the, hmm, interesting, category, https://www.wired.com/story/health-officials-no-thanks-contact-tracing-tech/

Fred Vogelstein Will Knight
Science
05.08.2020 07:00 AM
Health Officials Say 'No Thanks' to Contact-Tracing Tech
Silicon Valley companies have proposed automating the arduous task of identifying people potentially exposed to Covid-19. They're finding few takers.

...
In theory, the Google-Apple tech, and similar approaches, can automate and greatly speed the process of identifying contacts. But public health officers are typically MDs and PhDs who aren’t dazzled by cool-looking software, especially if the pitch comes from people without public health backgrounds. They’re uncomfortable deploying untested technology during a pandemic, when glitches can cost lives. “Those of us who have worked in public health for decades kind of cringe when we hear ‘Oh it will be easy. Anyone can do it’ or ‘We can replace that with this machine’ you’re waving around,” Frieden says.

Also, too much enthusiasm about technology feels politically risky right now. Covid-19 has already stretched city and state employees super thin, so the easiest response to a tech pitch is to delay making a decision or to adopt it in baby steps. Contact-tracing programs are created and managed by politicians and bureaucrats. But it’s no longer universally good for a politician’s popularity to be too closely associated with the titans of Silicon Valley.

For now, health officials plan more limited uses for technology, such as ensuring that call center workers can access callers' files after identity verification, or deploying automatic texting systems to stay in touch with those in quarantine and keep tabs on their symptoms. Arming contact tracers with tablet computers can simplify and speed data analysis.
 

modeltrains

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And then there is the actual doing of the science to consider,
Some researchers are considering how to put apps through randomized trials, to see whether they are directly responsible for bringing down infections. “I’m not saying it’s impossible,” says Johannes Abeler, a behavioral economist at Oxford, but “it would be very costly and difficult.” Because COVID-19 remains relatively rare, such studies might need tens of thousands of participants to see statistically significant differences in the number of infections between an app-using group and a control group, he says.
Huh, that's interesting,
Because COVID-19 remains relatively rare, ...
And brings to mind this I posted a bit back up the thread,
"Why even a super-accurate Covid-19 test can fail
It’s hard to find a disease that’s rare.
By Umair Irfan Updated May 27, 2020, 11:10am EDT

Update, May 27: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted new guidelines on antibody tests warning when Covid-19 prevalence is low (around 5 percent), less than half of those testing positive will truly have antibodies.

"The fundamental problem is that even the best tests struggle to find something that’s rare. That’s true if you’re looking for a novel virus, a form of cancer, or a genetic illness. While there have now been more than a million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States, it’s still a tiny share of the overall population. So people who are currently infected or who have survived the virus are still scarce."
https://www.vox.com/2020/5/1/21240123/coronavirus-quest-diagnostics-antibody-test-covid
 

amiliv

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Yes. And that is why it's important to know what you are using. Apple/Google API is just an API, which 3rd party developers can use to develop their own apps. I.e. you don't have to trust Apple, Google or your government. AFAICT, it is very similar to DP-3T and the two might be on the path to converge to a single standard (or at least be interoperable).

I.e. the model that Apple, Google and DP-3T adopted checks all the checkboxes from that article. Data is automatically removed after short period of time (or user can remove it manually at any point). Data exists only on the user's device; the phones don't send it to a centralized location automatically (it depends on the user to share it once they test positive). It is encouraged for the apps to be open source (i.e. anybody can audit the code). On top of that, the entire point is that there should be tens or hundreds of thousands of experts who would do anything for the fame to be the one to discover anything fishy going on with any of those apps. Precisely what the MIT dudes in the quoted article are after. And not only those MIT dudes, but literally hundreds of thousands of security and privacy experts around the globe will be putting these apps to the test.

This is e.g. similar to why common encryption protocols that we all use every day are safe and trusted. All the crypto algorithms you use daily (in your browser and your phone) are public. They are continuously analyzed and put under scrutiny every single day by thousands of experts worldwide. And not just the algorithms, but also attempting to poke holes in any single individual implementation of them.
 

Back_at_it

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I've complied with the masks and the social distancing. I've largely had to ignore the stay at home order as my job requires that i'm in public. When I do have time to myself I tend to want to be away from people anyway and spend my time with my GF doing activities that don't involve others.

I'm drawing the line at contact tracing. I've removed all of the social media programs from my phone and often leave home without it. I'm also on a version of iOS from 2019 and turned off updates.
 

dr wogz

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Bill S

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Even if I installed it on my phone, fat chance, I always have data and bluetooth turned off, so I doubt it'll be able to report back anyways. I use a pay as you go cheap service (Ting) so given that I just about never use data (if I'm really lost and my destination isn't on my elderly GPS unit), so that's not happening. :) I use my smartphone as camera more than anything else, with occasional texts and that's about it.
 

NateB

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I'm curious what a contact tracing app would tell those of us who are working around Covid patients and in close contact for hours at a time with other caregivers.
 

timbucktoo

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Unless you have something to hide, does it really matter if someone knows where you go? Me, I’m not bothered one way or another.
 

Tyeeking

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Unless you have something to hide, does it really matter if someone knows where you go? Me, I’m not bothered one way or another.
I assume then that you would have no problem with random searches of your person, perhaps a random search of your house, a frisk of your wife, a review of your bank accounts? After all, “unless you have something to hide does it really matter?”

We will all draw lines as to where government intrusion into our lives is no longer acceptable we just place them at different points and in hindsight we may wish that we had picked a different place to draw the line.
 

NateB

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Unless you have something to hide, does it really matter if someone knows where you go? Me, I’m not bothered one way or another.
I have enough parts of my life tracked that these apps don't phase me. I was amused recently when google maps sent me a notification to review the services at the hospital helipad we had landed at a few hours earlier. It isn't a public place, but I can only assume that Google's spiders picked up on the ILS approach from public data and inadvertently coded it as an airport with an FBO. Sometimes human intervention with the AI scripts is helpful.
 

timbucktoo

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I assume then that you would have no problem with random searches of your person, perhaps a random search of your house, a frisk of your wife, a review of your bank accounts? After all, “unless you have something to hide does it really matter?”

We will all draw lines as to where government intrusion into our lives is no longer acceptable we just place them at different points and in hindsight we may wish that we had picked a different place to draw the line.
Like I said, I have nothing to hide.
 

Bill S

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Like I said, I have nothing to hide.
I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree then. You may have cause to regret that someday, if the wrong politicians get into power and all of a sudden you are part of the unpopular people, the deplorables, the irredeemables, the expendables.
 

timbucktoo

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I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree then. You may have cause to regret that someday, if the wrong politicians get into power and all of a sudden you are part of the unpopular people, the deplorables, the irredeemables, the expendables.
Have you ever legally owned a fully automatic weapon or a silenced weapon?
 

Bill S

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Have you ever legally owned a fully automatic weapon or a silenced weapon?
That would be none of your business, sir. Also none of your business is my sexual orientation, my religious beliefs (if any), my political associations, where I go to exercise, what foods I eat, what books I read, what my hobbies are, etc, etc, etc.
 

OverTheTop

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We have one down here and 6million people have taken it up already. It uses bluetooth to sense proximity and logs coded id from other phones when you have been near them for more than 15 minutes. Location is not logged. Data is flushed after 22 days. Download is requested by health officials if needed and is instigated by the phone user. All very safe and anonymous. This was developed directly for the Australian government. Only bluetooth is required to be on.

I am sure the government knows more abouit me than this insignificant data. If somebody does pass the virus to me I can at least help with tracing who has been around me.
 

timbucktoo

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I am sure the government knows more abouit me than this insignificant data. If somebody does pass the virus to me I can at least help with tracing who has been around me.
Agreed and don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to know if they’re transmitting Covid other than selfishness.
 

timbucktoo

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That would be none of your business, sir. Also none of your business is my sexual orientation, my religious beliefs (if any), my political associations, where I go to exercise, what foods I eat, what books I read, what my hobbies are, etc, etc, etc.
Only if you pay in cash.
 

amiliv

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Even if I installed it on my phone, fat chance, I always have data and bluetooth turned off, so I doubt it'll be able to report back anyways. I use a pay as you go cheap service (Ting) so given that I just about never use data (if I'm really lost and my destination isn't on my elderly GPS unit), so that's not happening. :) I use my smartphone as camera more than anything else, with occasional texts and that's about it.
That's not how it works. You'd only need the app and Bluetooth turned on. That's it. Nothing is transmitted to the "Big Brother". Everything stays on your phone. The phones more or less do all the work. There's no central "authority" that will contact you or trace you. No location information is ever recorded.

Let say we both have apps installed. My phone generates a random gibberish every 5 minutes. E.g. "DP*wA06I". It's total random gibberish, a noise. It broadcasts it once over Bluetooth. After 5 minutes it generates new one, e.g. "Rjw5o&j3", and broadcasts it once. Bluetooth has a range of like 10-20 feet or so. Phones that are within that range (e.g. your phone, if we were close enough at that time) will receive it, and record it. Likewise your phone also generates these every 5 minutes, and my phone records what it heard.

All of this stays strictly on your phone and my phone. Nothing gets sent anywhere. Two lists of random noise. Random noise the phone generated, and random noise the phone heard.

One important thing is that location is not recorded anywhere. And would be useless piece of data anyhow. Time information is meaningless also, and doesn't need to be sent anywhere (it's used internally to deleted messages older than two weeks), but time info doesn't ever need to leave the phone.

Each of our phones keeps two lists. List of gibberish messages they sent. And another list of gibberish messages they received. These gibberish messages are kept in the list for two weeks, then discarded.

Let say the next day I get fever. I get tested, and sure enough COVID-19. My doctor will give me passcode allowing me to upload all the giberrish messages my phone generated over the last two weeks to a database. Only messages my phone generated are uploaded, not the messages it recorded. I.e. "your" stuff never leaves my phone. Again, it's up to me to upload this or not. Let say I make a choice to upload it.

The stuff that I'll be uploading to the database are just strings like "DP*wA06I", "Rjw5o&j3", "5^H5daY&". There's no information about me there. No location, no time, nothing but gibberish my phone was broadcasting over Bluetooth every 5 minutes for the past two weeks.

Your phone periodically downloads these gibberish tokens from the database. All of those were generated by people who tested positive and made a choice to upload the data after they tested positive. You don't need data plan. The phone can download it when you are home, over your home WiFi.

Your phone than cross checks if any of the tokens it downloaded matches with the "gibberish that I heard" list it keeps. It finds that "DP*wA06I" is both in the database and in tokens it has heard and recorded. It gives you a warning message. What you will do with that warning is totally up to you. It means at some point in the last two weeks you were close to somebody who was infected. You won't be able to tell it was me. All you know is that sometime in the last two weeks, your phone "heard" some other phone bleep "DP*wA06I" over Bluetooth. That's it. Hopefully you'll chose to get yourself tested.

I won't be able to know I was close to you (we are two total strangers, we don't know each other). My phone recorded tokens that your phone had broadcast. But only your phone knows those are your tokens. Even if you also test positive and chose to upload your tokens, neither I or anybody else can link those tokens you uploaded back to you. Just as you can't link my token that warned you back to me.

In theory, you could look up when did your phone record "DP*wA06I". If you know the time, and I was in your house around that time (i.e. we know each other), well, you could figure out it was me. But if we knew each other, you'd know I'm down with COVID-19 anyhow. If we were two total strangers who simply spent few minutes in a line at local store, good luck figuring out who I am.
 

amiliv

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I'm curious what a contact tracing app would tell those of us who are working around Covid patients and in close contact for hours at a time with other caregivers.
Well, I guess you'd get warnings all the time ;-). However, more importantly, if you were to pick up the virus from one of your patients, and were to upload tokens from your phone to the database, other people who you randomly crossed paths with in grocery store or elsewhere would get the warning.

I.e. in your personal case, it'd be more about others than you.
 

OverTheTop

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I.e. in your personal case, it'd be more about others than you.
That's very much what it is about.

In Australia the app is tracking about the same contacts as the people doing contact tracing. We are experiencing a surge in cases (288 today in our state :eek:) which will quickly overwhelm the human contract tracing teams. The app will be beneficial in that case.
 

NateB

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Well, I guess you'd get warnings all the time ;-). However, more importantly, if you were to pick up the virus from one of your patients, and were to upload tokens from your phone to the database, other people who you randomly crossed paths with in grocery store or elsewhere would get the warning.

I.e. in your personal case, it'd be more about others than you.
The app doesn't know what kind of protection I use though. Do they only pass the tokens along if the user claims to have received a positive test, or do they tokens pass through a user automatically, like a virus would?
 

amiliv

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The app doesn't know what kind of protection I use though. Do they only pass the tokens along if the user claims to have received a positive test, or do they tokens pass through a user automatically, like a virus would?
"They" don't pass tokens around. They only maintain a place where you can dump your tokens if and when you chose to do so. You need to manually upload them. The app will not do it unless you click on "I tested positive, upload my tokens" button. There is no information attached to the tokens. Tokens are simply random noise.

The app only does these things automatically:
  • Generates and broadcasts random tokens over Bluetooth. These are heard by other nearby phones only (range of about 10-20 feet). These tokens contain no information that could be used to identify you. No location info. It's simply random noise.
  • Keeps list of tokens it sent out over Bluetooth during the past few weeks.
  • Keeps separate list of tokens it "heard" over Bluetooth from other nearby phones over the past few weeks. These do not contain any information that could be used to identify other people. It's just random noise.
  • Periodically downloads tokens from central database that people who tested positive manually uploaded.
  • Cross checks the list of tokens it "heard" from other devices with the list of tokens it downloaded from central database. If it finds a match, it display a warning that you were in contact with somebody who tested positive. This warning is for your eyes only.
 
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