This spring Apple and Google announced a joint project to create a universal coronavirus patient tracking system for iOS and Android. It is a software interface that records users' contacts with each other, and then notifies them if someone from those with whom they met was infected with COVID-19. The companies claimed that their new development was completely secure because it was focused on privacy from the beginning, but this turned out to be not entirely true.
Tracking Coronavirus Patients May Backtrack Users
First, a little excursion. The tracking system itself in question is a regular API or, if you prefer, a kind of driver. And for the smartphone to start recording meetings between users, you need a special application, the development of which was to be dealt with by the local health authorities of each country. With their help, it would be possible to keep a record of the sick, who would independently report their diagnosis, and then an automated system would notify those with whom they met about the need to pass tests.
Surveillance of patients with coronavirus
Google decided it could defy promises not to spy on users
But here's the problem. Despite the fact that Apple and Google assured that they did not collect data and did not have access to information about user movements at all, everything turned out to be exactly the opposite, at least in relation to Google. As the Ministry of Health of Denmark found out, Android with the installed application for tracking patients with coronavirus actually collects data on user movements and transmits it to Google. For this, smartphones use not only Bluetooth, as noted earlier, but also GPS.
Information about Google's foul play soon spread among the governments of different countries, which expressed their dissatisfaction with the company. They stressed that they do not agree to work with the company in the current mode, when it has the ability to record the movements of their citizens with an unknown purpose. Despite this, so far, no country has abandoned the use of a contact tracing system for patients with coronavirus. However, they did not rule out this possibility if Google does not correct the violation.
How Google tricked everyone
If Google does not give up on tracking users, it runs the risk of serious harm to it, and Apple
Users should be able to interact with the coronavirus patient tracking system without fear of violating their privacy. We are categorically not satisfied with the terms on which Google invites us to cooperate. Therefore, we are forced to insist that the company refuse to collect data through GPS-modules built into smartphones of users who have installed the application in order to protect themselves from infection, says Dr. Sang-Lee Kim, head of digitalization at the Swiss Ministry of Health.
Quite frankly, collecting data about users who have installed a contact tracking app is a very vicious practice. Not only does it undermine the credibility of the system itself, organized in order to protect the population, it also casts a shadow on Apple, which seems to have nothing to do with it. In any case, the Cupertino company has never been caught spying on users on its own, which is a bit discordant with Google's behavior, although they created this system together and, accordingly, should have initially excluded any possibility of surveillance.