Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

French Government Representatives Object to Apple’s On-Device Processing of Contact Tracing Records

Helene Fouquet, Bloomberg:

Apple’s operating system prevents contact-tracing apps using its Bluetooth technology from running constantly in the background if that data is going to be moved off of the device, a limit designed to protect users’ privacy. That limitation is standing in the way of the type of app that France wants to build, Digital Minister Cedric O said.

[…]

The Google-Apple system relies on smartphones’ Bluetooth connections and will allow users to keep their data on their handsets. However, France and the European Union want to feed the data to a central server, managed by state health services, which would alert users if they come into contact with a person infected by Covid-19.

Any system that sends data to a centralized location is inherently less secure and is vulnerable to “mission creep,” enabling a form of surveillance on users, according to a letter on Monday from 300 academics in more than two dozen countries, which endorsed Google and Apple’s approach.

It isn’t every day that a country in the European Union is asking for weaker privacy protections. Bizarre — and somewhat hypocritical. However, it is vital that Apple and Google do not reverse their stance on on-device processing of contact tracing records.

Alex Hern, the Guardian:

Digital contact tracing will fail unless governments build the technology in a way that respects user privacy, a group of nearly 300 experts have warned.

[…]

The joint letter, signed by academics from 26 countries worldwide, highlights the potential that digital contact tracing has in helping prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 as countries come out of lockdown, but cautions that the effectiveness is no excuse for riding roughshod over privacy protections – and is, in fact, closely entwined with them.

The contact tracing systems that have been created in response to this pandemic are surely well-intentioned and will likely be of some help. But they must also be destroyed — or, at least, put on ice — as global health improves. There needs to be an independently verifiable way for us to confirm that these massive efforts have come to an end.

Update: Alex Hern:

I don’t agree with France’s demands for more data for their contact tracing app but I don’t agree with the prevailing California view that it’s hypocritical to ask. “Governments, not tech companies, should be in charge of vast databases of personal data” is a coherent position.

I regret using the word “hypocritical” to describe the French government’s request, even though it was blunted with “somewhat”. Perhaps “ironic” is a better choice. Regardless, Hern is correct: in a democracy, there is a vast difference in our control over the collection and use of personal data by governments compared to that of companies.