Recently, Apple and Google – two of the world’s biggest tech firms–jointly devised a system of contact tracing for COVID-19. This contact tracing does not involve analyzing centralized data stores of personal data. Rather, it leverages a proximity technology most often seen in retail stores and shopping centers plus a peer-to-peer (P2P) communications concept that parallels methods explored for connected vehicles. The Apple-Google design is a fascinating departure from the conventional model of central collection and processing of personal data.
Coincidence… or Bluetooth?
You may have encountered mobile applications that have asked for Bluetooth access. Or you may have received what seems like a strangely coincidental promotional email as you have walked through the door of a store. This is not a coincidence; retailers frequently use Bluetooth, among other methods, to determine where a customer is standing in a store and to trigger promotions. This is not regulated in most of the United States. We normally think of Bluetooth as a way that a “master” device (a computer, car, or audio source, typically) can communicate with an “accessory” such as keyboards, mice, headphones, hands-free sets, etc. As most users encounter the technology, it is a matter of “pairing” one device with another. But Bluetooth can run under numerous profiles that transmit a variety of data types. GPS-free location tracking was largely enabled by Bluetooth LE, which allows the radio technology to run on a mobile device without creating an excessive battery drain. This eliminated a major inconvenience of prior versions of Bluetooth, and the practical effect is that it can remain “on” all the time. Many implementations of Bluetooth 4.0/LE allow range-finding between a transmitter and receiver. A store, for example, can determine where a customer is standing by measuring the distances from the visitor’s phone to sensors in the store.
Continue Reading Locating COVID-19 Without the Location Data