Radical Apps on Contact Tracing: Pandora's Box

By Daniel Lloyd-Miller for Boston Compass (#124)

June 29, 2020


Contact tracing will be a digital privacy nightmare, and should absolutely not be implemented. Contact tracing is a proposed system by which people are informed if they’ve walked near someone who tests positive for novel coronavirus. In theory, this system works by utilizing the near field technology of bluetooth, keeping logs of every bluetooth device in 100-200ft range, and “anonymously” warning you if someone you’ve recently been near contracts COVID-19. In practice, this system primarily functions by creating a surveillance network out of bluetooth functionality.

Benefits of increased surveillance:

  • It is easier for governments and corporations to surveil you.

Drawbacks of increased surveillance:

  • see above.

Taking the Government’s word that contact tracing will go back into the box is frankly a hard sell. If you’re skeptical of this, consider that the current comprehensive surveillance nightmare that is PRISM, 12-eyes, and the TSA, were created under combating the shadowy threat of “terrorism” through the 2001 Patriot Act. Naturally of course, we’re nearly 20 years on, and the existential threat of terrorism apparently justifies the permanent existence of civil rights infringing bulk data collection.

Here’s my prediction: Apple and Google create an incredible contact tracing apparatus, built into IOS and Android such that users can’t manually remove it. Officially they say “we’ll remove it when COVID is over. Such a time never arrives and the contact tracing apparatus, which uses bluetooth to intimately track the locations of everyone carrying a cellphone, goes from: ‘new tech to fight the virus’ to: ‘just another feature in modern cell phones’. Privacy activists complain and get called tinfoil hat wearers for pointing out how awful the increased surveillance state is. Apple tells everyone that they care about privacy, but that contact tracing is good for them. Google, exceptionally far from giving a fuck, incorporates it into their existing advertising apparatus and soon Android 11 arrives with contact tracing built in and always on. Google will tell you that you can disable it, but will continue tracking you, just without telling you about it (the same way every single one of their current tracking systems work).

Both companies will continue giving their information carte blanche to the CIA, NSA, FBI, or other 3 letter agencies with a pulse. Business continues as usual, and people stubbornly parrot the “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” argument, while feeling shocked and uncomfortable when someone else discovers their browsing history.

I’d love to be wrong about this because it invites a disastrous level of surveillance that history shows us will go from “temporary” tech to integrated systems with little public oversight. COVID, like most other problems of its scale, can be defeated through social problem solving, not by developing another massive state surveillance apparatus.

—DLM

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