Friday 7 August 2020
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newtimes - 1 month ago

Leveraging technology in the fight against coronavirus

Tech giants Apple and Google have teamed up to let you know through your smartphones if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms. As a result, a Covid-19 tracing software tool has appeared in the settings of both Android phones and iPhones as part of an update of their operating systems. Dubbed “exposure notification”, the tool is set to push through new software to IOS and Android phones, the companies announced. The app sends out bluetooth codes to phones, which Apple and Google said are encrypted. This means that they will not know who the users are or where they have been. In addition, “The exposure notification tool is switched off by default, and is not a tracing app itself. But it enables an app to run in the background while still using Bluetooth. This lets the app measure the distance between two handsets - and then alert the phone owner if someone near them later tests positive for Covid-19,” the companies highlighted in a joint statement. According to Patricie Nostalgie, a software engineer, “The innovation has unlocked 2 things. Android and IOS users’ location and health data can be shared, which is a game changer for app developers because it means that when you are developing the contact-tracing app, you won’t be blocked by the fact that an android user has gone in contact with an IOS user”. Initially, he adds, “It would be impossible to know if they have met, because android and IOS wouldn’t share this data. Developers had to find other ways of doing things which were not effective. But now if you get in contact with the other one, data will be shared via Bluetooth” Besides, the data shared will not be personal, they will use random numerical ID codes that change frequently and get trashed completely once they’re older than 14 days (the incubation period for Covid-19), Nostalgie pointed out. For anyone opting into the program and said they have COVID-19 symptoms, their phone would alert other smartphones that they have been in recent contact with. However, while the tech giants insist they will not have personal information from users, experts have raised concerns that as much as the system could be potentially helpful in the battle against the pandemic, it could not be efficient locally. For instance, Lambert Rulindana, a tech developer told The New Times that the system is effective but not feasible on the Rwandan market. “First of all it needs internet, people here can spend a day or a week when they are not online. Unlike countries like South Korea where the technology is being used, we don’t have many public places with WiFi internet.” This would therefore mean that, “The technology uses GPS logging coordinates, which would also lead to poor memory hence finding the majority reluctantly failing to download this app due to storage issues. GPS logging coordinates allows Google store locations even without internet connection, and displays them when a smartphone is connected to the internet. For iPhone users, the app is found in the settings app, via the privacy menu and then health sub-section while on Android phones it’s in the Google (services and preferences) section of the settings menu.


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