OR Apple and the Google last Friday announced that they will work together to develop a Bluetooth contact monitoring API for COVID 19. The API will run on iOS devices and Android and detect, identify, and monitor individuals who may have come in contact with those infected with the virus.
It's a good opportunity to remember something we've probably forgotten: Technology is a tool, not a solution. New tools need a lot of testing to work properly. As far as healthcare is concerned, this is the case at least twice.
Its technology Apple and her Google will fail. In addition to privacy, where reactions have already begun, there are many other obstacles that need to be overcome for the contact detection tool to be effective.
Let's make an account (check please):
1. the API will be available from mid-May.
2. you will need a compatible cell phone (which many do not have due to age, country, income, and too many others).
3. you need to update your smartphone.
4. health authorities should release applications that use the API.
5. you need to download and install this application.
6. You need to leave your Bluetooth turned on when you are out.
7. technology should recognize without error that you have come 6 meters away from other people.
8. everyone else you come in contact with must have done all of the above.
9. if the application informs you that you may have COVID-19, should be considered (something that is not done in all countries)
10. If you are positive, you should notify anyone who may have contacted you.
These will not be done by the majority. Especially those who are more sensitive to COVID 19. Above we talk about three major obstacles: time, adoption and technology.
There is currently nothing we can do about the fact that the API is not ready today. We are sure that the Apple and the Google are they working hard to complete it as soon as possible but will it work properly from day one?
For adoption, we can not do anything right away as those who do not want to install the application or some update will not do so because the government tells them. (For example, about 12% of Singaporeans downloaded TraceTogether, the government's Bluetooth-based government contact detection app. (old and new). THE Apple and the Google plan to launch the Bluetooth contacts monitoring platform directly across iOS and Android "the next months". That's right, they need more time.
And last but not least, the headline made you read this article. The technology has a somewhat unreliable history when all you want to do is combine two devices. Even if it was reliable, Bluetooth is not designed for remote contact detection as two (at least) two devices will have to be a certain distance apart for a certain amount of time. (THE Apple and the Google specifically use Bluetooth Low Energy, which is about 9 meters wide on a standard phone - the theoretical maximum is "less than" 100 meters.)
But let's not be pessimistic, let's assume that a small part of iOS and its users Android use this contact tracking tool. Let's say it "works" for this small group of people.
Good; Well, yes and no.
The motto of technology is “move fast and break things“. This can be good for creating a mobile game. But it is not good for a healthcare application that is supposed to help monitor the spread of a global pandemic. (For his part, its CEO Google Sundar Pichai reported this week that technology companies should not be misled by their role in fighting COVID 19.)
I'm not referring to false positives where the system indicates that you have been in contact with someone who has been infected but has not been infected.
I'm talking about false positives only because of Bluetooth:
You are in your apartment (or any building) and your device comes close to someone's device through a wall, above you through the ceiling or below you through the floor. Two devices could come close to cars that are side by side at a red light.
An error in an application that is supposed to warn that you may have a fatal illness is serious. False positives in a contact tracking application will have consequences. Who will lift the emotional charge if he learns that he is infected. What if you look and find that everything is fine? If your application repeatedly alerts you that you may be infected?
Tracking contacts is not a new idea. Widely used in public health: Identify people who may have come in contact with an infected person, gather information about those contacts, perform tests, treat the infected, and track their contacts. Repeat to reduce infections in the population.
People are good at tracking contacts. We have no information that the phones are the same. Taking into account all the above, why should the Apple and the Google to develop something like this right now?
It is simple:
The novel COVID 19 is not the first pandemic and certainly will not be the last. This will happen again and we will have to invest more in the necessary technology. (This is a good scenario, so as not to start conspiracy theories).
It may sound "bad", but think about tracking her contacts Apple and her Google for COVID 19 as a beta program. When the next virus arrives, the technology will already be there and tested. There will still be problems with adoption and questions about effectiveness, however Apple and the Google will be there for our good with the duo Android-iOS
Even if Bluetooth no longer exists or we have discarded all our smartphones because we use smart glasses, many of us will remember COVID 19 and all the efforts to smooth the curve. We will know what worked, what did not and what had potential.