15 April, 2020 | Nader Fathi
On Friday, April 10, 2020, Apple and Google announced that they will release tools for software developers to create so-called “contact-tracing” apps to record when smartphones come into close contact with each other. The intention of these apps is to warn users if they were in the proximity of someone later diagnosed as positive for COVID-19.
Kiana’s solution can augment the Apple-Google tracking app, and it would provide a superior solution for use in enterprise and corporate facilities. This is where the most “community transmission”, as well as “direct people contact” will occur.
It is great to see the historic tech giants and rivals, Apple and Google, teaming up to tackle a global pandemic. Although for a noble cause, this approach has many flaws to consider.
In 2011, Cambridge University researchers developed an app called FluPhone that tracks how people behave during an epidemic. The goal was to limit disease spread, and even with 30,000 people a year die from the flu, this app was not widely adopted.
Singapore’s famous TraceTogether App for contact tracing was released last month. Although other cultures are more compliant than Western countries, only 20% of the Singaporean population has downloaded this app. Singapore authorities have stated that for such an app to be effective, they require like three-fourths, if not all, of the population to download and use the app. The question is that will Apple-Google tracker grows based on inertia or based on some government mandate.
Apple’s App Store is 12-years-old. We as a society are suffering from App Fatigue. Consumers are tired of apps. Building apps for the sake of apps has run out of steam. Data really is king. Apple and Google are not planning to provide an app, but an operating-level framework on which third parties can build their solutions. It is not yet clear who will build these apps for public-health authorities.
The recent report from Washington State shows that almost 70% of those impacted were over the age of 50. We assume they are the ones that will download this app. The problem with this demographic is that most older citizens do not have the right cellphones or know how to use an app properly. On the other hand, younger and healthy citizens, may not be as concerned and probably won’t install an app. So the data collected will be limited and potentially useless.
Community Transmission and Location Data
Not all viruses are transmitted via direct people contact. Another route is community transmission. In that situation, viral particles emitted from the infected individual land on a surface. Then, another person touches that object, then touches their nose, mouth or eyes. The virus then enters the body infecting the second person. The Apple-Google tracker does not disclose the location of contact transmission, and would not capture this potential vector for transmission. Location data is a must-have for surgical cleaning and disinfection of physical space.
Are You Really Infected? (False Positives)
Bluetooth can register connections as far as 100 meters away, but is dependent on specific hardware settings and signals may be blocked by walls. Bluetooth contact tracing uses a relative signal strength indicator to detect when one device is near another, and for how long. For example in Figure 1 let’s say you are the upstairs neighbor who lives on the second floor. If Dave is the infected person his BLE signal may travel to his neighbor on the second floor. We don’t believe the virus can travel through walls although Bluetooth signals may. So the neighbor will be flagged as infected (false-positive).
Potential for User Abuse
A self-reporting system has to determine a process for logging positive tests. A self-reporting system would be open to widespread abuse. You cannot have an app at this scale where anyone can just click a box to say they have symptoms and then all those they’ve been near immediately self-isolate.
For example, a German artist illustrated how it is possible to create a virtual traffic jam in Google Maps by walking around the streets of Berlin with 99 cell phones. The same could happen with the Apple-Google tracker. It’s easy to imagine a hacker flooding the system with faulty infected data. Garbage in, garbage out.
What is Kiana Doing Different
In my recent blog, Fighting Coronavirus with WiFi, I highlighted how using logs from WiFi Access Points can be used to detect those infected with COVID-19. Our approach, which uses existing WiFi Infrastructure can augment the Apple-Google tracking solution.It would provide a superior solution for use in enterprise and corporate facilities. This is where the most “community transmission”, as well as “direct people contact” will occur.
To learn more attend Kiana’s Webinar