Apple and Google join forces to spy on Android and iPhone users for Coronavirus purposes

digital monitoring

We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, so Americans should allow their rights to be trampled if it means beating the virus, right? Hell no! Not at all. Look, everyone wants to see the COVID-19 virus eradicated, but we shouldn't allow the tragedy to be amplified by allowing governments and corporations to take away our rights.

Sadly, Google and Apple are teaming up to do just that. You see, as a way to help governments, the two companies are planning to spy on smartphone users to help fight the Coronavirus. It will first be done with an optional app, but later integrated into both Android and iOS. Essentially, Bluetooth will be leveraged in tracking those infected with COVID-19 and warning those that come near them. While it sounds good on the surface, you are not wrong to be very worried.

Apple and Google share the following joint statement.

Across the world, governments and health authorities are working together to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect people and get society back up and running. Software developers are contributing by crafting technical tools to help combat the virus and save lives. In this spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.

Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology. To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.

First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores

Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities. Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.

All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems. Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.

Do I think the intentions behind this collaboration are pure? Yes, actually. The leaders at Google and Apple are probably sincere in their goal of fighting the disease. Unfortunately, it is a slippery slope, and it is just a matter of time before people are tracked for all sorts of medical (and non-medical) reasons. It is crazy to have this functionality integrated into operating systems!

Let's not forget, there is the possibility of hackers stealing collected data and either leaking or selling it to others. Law enforcement may even subpoena the data to convict those that opt in! Imagine ending up in jail because you thought you were helping fight disease.

And no, this isn't something that can be ignored because it is opt-in. Since it will ultimately be integrated into the operating systems, there is always the possibility of a bug "accidentally" causing users to become opted in. Yes, that really can happen. Google and Apple can talk about privacy until they are blue in the face, but no security is infallible.

What do you think? Should Google and Apple integrate user tracking into Android and iOS in partnership with governments, or do you think we will end up regretting this? Do the benefits of fighting COVID-19 outweigh the negatives? Please tell me in the comments below.

Image credit: Brilliant Eye/Shutterstock

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