Friday, April 10, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Contact Tracing

Russell Brandom and Adi Robertson (Hacker News, MacRumors):

Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations.

The new system, which is laid out in a series of documents and whitepapers, would use short-range Bluetooth communications to establish a voluntary contact-tracing network, keeping extensive data on phones that have been in close proximity with each other. Official apps from public health authorities will get access to this data, and users who download them can report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. The system will also alert people who download them to whether they were in close contact with an infected person.

Matthew Panzarino:

A quick example of how a system like this might work:

  1. Two people happen to be near each other for a period of time, let’s say 10 minutes. Their phones exchange the anonymous identifiers (which change every 15 minutes).
  2. Later on, one of those people is diagnosed with COVID-19 and enters it into the system via a Public Health Authority app that has integrated the API.
  3. With an additional consent, the diagnosed user allows his anonymous identifiers for the last 14 days to be transmitted to the system.
  4. The person they came into contact with has a Public Health app on their phone that downloads the broadcast keys of positive tests and alerts them to a match.
  5. The app gives them more information on how to proceed from there.

[…]

All identification of matches is done on your device, allowing you to see — within a 14-day window — whether your device has been near the device of a person who has self-identified as having tested positive for COVID-19.

Mark Gurman:

Apple and Google stressed on Friday that their system preserves users’ privacy. Consent is required and location data is not collected. The technology also won’t notify users who they came into contact with, or where that happened. The companies said they can’t see this data either, and noted that the whole system can be shut down when needed.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Contact Tracing framework preliminary API reference (!)

Surprisingly, it’s in Objective-C.

Update (2020-04-17): Ross Anderson:

There have recently been several proposals for pseudonymous contact tracing, including from Apple and Google. To both cryptographers and privacy advocates, this might seem the obvious way to protect public health and privacy at the same time. Meanwhile other cryptographers have been pointing out some of the flaws.

There are also real systems being built by governments. Singapore has already deployed and open-sourced one that uses contact tracing based on bluetooth beacons. Most of the academic and tech industry proposals follow this strategy, as the “obvious” way to tell who’s been within a few metres of you and for how long.

[…]

But contact tracing in the real world is not quite as many of the academic and industry proposals assume.

[…]

Fifth, although the cryptographers - and now Google and Apple - are discussing more anonymous variants of the Singapore app, that’s not the problem. Anyone who’s worked on abuse will instantly realise that a voluntary app operated by anonymous actors is wide open to trolling.

Via Bruce Schneier:

So I agree with Ross that this is primarily an exercise in that false syllogism: Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it. It’s techies proposing tech solutions to what is primarily a social problem.

[…]

As long as 1) every contact does not result in an infection, and 2) a large percentage of people with the disease are asymptomatic and don’t realize they have it, I can’t see how this sort of app is valuable. If we had cheap, fast, and accurate testing for everyone on demand...maybe.

Joe Rossignol:

Apple today in a press briefing indicated that its upcoming COVID-19 contact tracing system with Google will have a verification flow, meaning that users will be required to submit proof in order to report that they have tested positive for the disease.

EFF:

Regularly rotating identifiers used by the phone is a start, but if an adversary can learn that multiple identifiers belong to the same user, it greatly increases the risk that they can tie that activity to a real person. As we understand Apple and Google’s proposal, users who test positive are asked to upload keys that tie together all their identifiers for a 24-hour period. (We have asked Apple and Google for clarification.) This could allow trackers to collect rotating identifiers if they had access to a widespread network of bluetooth readers, then track the movements of infected users over time. This breaks the safeguards created by using rotating identifiers in the first place. For that reason, rotating identifiers must be uploaded to any central authority or database in a way that doesn’t reveal the fact that many identifiers belong to the same person. This may require that the upload of a single user’s tokens are batched with other user data or spread out over time.

[…]

When the COVID-19 crisis ends, any application built to fight the disease should end as well. Defining the end of the crisis will be a difficult question, so developers should ensure that users can opt out at any point. They should also consider building time limits into their applications themselves, along with regular check-ins with the users as to whether they want to continue broadcasting. Furthermore, as major providers like Apple and Google throw their weight behind these applications, they should articulate the circumstances under which they will and will not build similar products in the future.

Ben Thompson:

The reality that tech companies, particularly the big five (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook), effectively set the rules for their respective domains has been apparent for some time. You see this in debates about what content to police on Facebook or YouTube, what apps to allow and what rules to apply to them on iOS and Android, and the increasing essentiality of AWS and Azure to enterprise. What is critical to understand about this dominance is why it arises, why current laws and regulations don’t seem to matter, and what signal it is that actually drives big company decision-making.

[…]

Moreover, it is baldly obvious that the only obstacle to this being involuntary is not the government, but rather Apple and Google. What is especially noteworthy is that the coronavirus crisis is the one time we might actually wish for central authorities to overcome privacy concerns, but these companies — at least for now — won’t do it.

Mattt Thompson:

In this article, we’ll take a first look at these specifications — particularly Apple’s proposed ContactTracing framework — and use what we’ve learned to anticipate what this will all look like in practice.

Ben Adida:

Last night, I spent some quality time with the Apple docs on the new contact tracing protocol and APIs they and Google are preparing.

I’m quite optimistic about this effort. Here’s why.

1 Comment

This site has a nice graphical description that's pretty much the same as the Apple/Google plan. https://ncase.me/contact-tracing/

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