Is Big Brother Watching?
A couple weeks ago, I posed the question to you, “Does the government have a right to use your location data to enact policies to stop a pandemic from spreading?”
One reader noted:
I think it is perfectly fine for the government to use cellphones’ location data for potential COVID-19 infected people. However, what will happen after the data are received? Will the feds come out and capture the victims and transport them to a quarantine facility? Will the infectees’ path be reenacted and then doused with a sanitizing agent? Will the data be sold to law firms for possible legal action against the infected for not following shelter-in-place orders? That is why I am skeptical about the intention for wanting the data in the first place. People have enough sense to self-quarantine or seek medical attention on their own, and these matters should be protected under the doctor-client privilege.
Overall, the responses I got were generally worried about what the government would do with the data.
We’re all aware of the Big Brother trope.
Fortunately for us, a 1984 future is far from reality right now.
On Monday, Google and Apple invited several news and tech outlets to a call to address any concerns that people may have.
And the answers they gave were illuminating…
Who do they track?
Apple and Google say they can only track you if you opt in.
You can then choose to upload your data anonymously via Bluetooth. And that will tell you and other devices whether or not you have been in close proximity to other users who tested positive for COVID-19.
They won’t just start tracking every iPhone and Android out there.
It’s all voluntary, and it’s all anonymous.
Do they track my location if I opt in? And how do they keep it anonymous?
The process doesn’t use location data.
So they’re not really tracking you as much as detecting devices around you.
Think of your phone as a radar and others as blips on the screen.
You will get notification from your device if you exposed yourself to other COVID-19 users, and then will be prompted to download a public health application.
It won’t tell you who has COVID-19 for anonymity purposes. It will simply notify you of the potential threat.
What are they going to do with the data?
Google and Apple have both stated they are only using the data to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
After this, they stated they would dismantle the system.
They explicitly said that they would not use it for advertising or other uses unrelated to the pandemic. And said that only government organizations would get access to the system.
Can the data be compromised?
This data are a hacker’s dream.
But there’s a lot in your favor if you decide to opt in.
The system doesn’t track location, is completely anonymous and, most importantly, is decentralized.
How do I know if the alerts are real?
Google and Apple are going to route all alerts through public health organizations.
This is to make sure that there aren’t any alerts based on false claims of COVID-19.
People who get diagnosed with COVID-19 will get a one-time code they will enter to trigger an alert.
This prevents any false red flags and allows a proper system to be established.
Should I opt in?
In the end, if you decide to opt in or not is your decision.
No government agency or private institution is going to use these data against you. If that were the case, we’d have some serious problems on our hands.
Right now we’re far from the 1984 scenario some media outlets are saying this will be.
If you’re out and about constantly — doing things like working in the health care sector or providing care for a loved one trapped at home — you may want to consider signing up.
Especially if you are caring for an elderly individual, for you don’t want to expose them to this unnecessarily. But also weigh how much you trust Apple and Google. And how much you value your privacy.
At the end of the day, though, it’s still your decision. And no one can tell you what to do — not the government, not Google, not me.
Continue to send me your thoughts on the matter or any matter at AskRay@SevenFigurePublishing.com.
To a bright future,