A ‘global mass surveillance tool’
American tech corporations Apple and Google issued a joint statement on April 10, announcing their plans to integrate a new Bluetooth-based coronavirus contact tracing technology into the iOS and Android operating systems.
“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,” the announcement stated, adding that it will “enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.”
In theory, apps based on this new functionality will act as an “alarm,” warning you if your smartphone was in close proximity to a device tagged as “infected”—belonging to someone tested positive for the coronavirus. But there’s a catch.
The companies claim new technology will “maintain strong protections around user privacy,” yet its implementation could result in the exact opposite, according to Jaap-Henk Hoepman, associate professor of Computer Science at Radboud University.
In his article titled “Stop the Apple and Google contact tracing platform. (Or be ready to ditch your smartphone.),” Hoepman argued that Apple and Google’s plans could expose people’s phones at the operating system layer.
“Even though ‘privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance’, this is a game changing event that has grave consequences. […] Instead of an app, the technology is pushed down the stack into the operating system layer creating a Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform. This means the technology is available all the time, for all kinds of applications,” he said.
“This effectively turns our smartphones into a global mass surveillance tool.”
Additionally, Hoepman suspected that contact tracing won’t be limited by the pandemic period. After its implementation, the technology will remain embedded in smartphones’ operating systems—unless Apple and Google choose to remove it in the future.