back to article So how do the coronavirus smartphone tracking apps actually work and should you download one to help?

In an effort to fend off the coronavirus while getting economies restarted, the world has hit on the same idea: a smartphone app that alerts people if they have been close to someone who has the virus. It may be the only effective solution to mass lockdowns; the virus is spreading “too fast to be contained by manual contact …

  1. Sleep deprived
    Thumb Up

    Good for data-less phone plans

    An app that only uses Bluetooth and stores data locally also doesn't require constant Internet access. That's a good thing for folks like me whose smartphone only accesses the internet through wifi.

    1. Phil Kingston

      Re: Good for data-less phone plans

      Curious.... why do you not use cellular data?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        You get all sorts of funny folk here with spurious reasons for doing things a certain way.

        Just waiting for someone to chime in they don't even have a smartphone.

        Don't be too surprised, it's rarely valid reasons behind their decisions - or it would just be the way everyone, or most, do it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          I have two friends who don't own a mobile 'phone, and another who deliberately doesn't own a 'smart' 'phone. I am sure my friends are not unique.

          1. dvd

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            Yep. My mum doesn't have a smartphone and neither do a lot of her pals.

            1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              Likewise. I have a Sammy B2100, which does everything I want as well as being small, rugged and waterproof, but most of my friends have smartphones.

            2. thondwe

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              So there will be big gaps with some demographics - "olds" come to mind - not owning the right sort of phone. So would lock down ONLY be eased for those with a phone running the App?

          2. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            We are a family of six with three smartphones between us. Nine and three if you count grandparents. Two of the smartphones are so old that mandating a GPS solution and always-on data would mean taking batteries around with us to recharge every three or four hours. Those two work in buildings which are very effective blockers of both GPS and mobile signals and therefore chew through batteries even quicker than might be expected. One building has no public WiFi either.

            One phone is used in a building where phones are banned from some areas.

            All three phones are Android but none has a Play Store account.

            All three phones have very limited mobile data plans for cost reasons.

            Not everyone needs or desires, or can be, constantly contactable.

            A Bluetooth solution with periodic uploads of small amounts of data would work (privacy concerns aside) and independently-produced Apps could mean a FOSS solution which could be available is a sideloadable APK or in Fdroid.

            Better than that, a BT solution could be made to work on many non-smart phones too. These all have BT and many are capable of running Java or Script apps (though I don't know about background processes) and lists of BT identifiers shouldn't use much storage or take long to upload even via a 2G data connection or - think about it - by a series of text messages for phones without data (two of ours have plans with no data allowance but big text allowances. One grandparent is still on PAYG so a free text number would be even better).

            Calling people who choose to limit the invasion of technology and Big Corporates into their lives names helps no-one and could be likened to poking fun at other lifestyle choices such as veganism.

            I'm waiting for the hate speech when a vaccine is developed and some vegans refuse to take it because it's been cultured in eggs.

            M.

            1. Nifty Bronze badge

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              Would you like to

              a) Be locked down for the next 100 years like now, for that is how long it'll take for herd immunity to arrive with the current system or

              b) Get a budget smartphone and set it up to use the app

              1. Cave-Homme
                Big Brother

                Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                Would you like to

                a) Be locked down for the next 100 years like now, for that is how long it'll take for herd immunity to arrive with the current system or

                b) Get a budget smartphone and set it up to use the app

                Erm, there's thousands of nasty viri and bacteria out there that already kill lots people constantly. For example, influenza in 2 of the last 3 winters has killed many more than COVID this winter.

                I'm not saying COVID isn't a problem, my point is WHO exactly decides upon monitoring, isolation, lockdown and HOW do they decide?

                At this rate, if we are not careful, we'll FOREVER be monitored and given green, amber and red status lights.

              2. doublelayer Silver badge

                Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                "Would you like to"

                a) "Be locked down for the next 100 years like now, for that is how long it'll take for herd immunity to arrive with the current system or"

                b) "Get a budget smartphone and set it up to use the app"

                Good choices, but I think I'd like to choose among these:

                C) Not constrain myself to a false dichotomy.

                d) Consider quarantines that neither pander to panicking people nor to people who don't care about deaths, but are based on frequently-updated statistics and careful study by epidemiologists and economists.

                e) Consider using tracking solutions only in the most extreme of circumstances, rather than jumping immediately to them.

                f) Plan for the long run, including how quarantine is set up, how it is shut down, what needs to be done to maintain it, and what needs to be done afterward.

                g) All of the above.

                h) Items C through F.

                I'll choose option H, thanks.

            2. e^iπ+1=0

              cultured in eggs.

              Mmm eggs.

              I was just looking for a new egg recipe.

              Worst case, could we quarantine the vegans until there was an egg free vaccine for them? Might be available eventually.

            3. Ribfeast

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              I work in a dark site too, no phones or smart watches etc allowed in. All staff phones get put in lockers at the entrance of the building. So the bluetooth option would see a hundred phones in near proximity, causing a ton of false alerts if one person got infected. But I like the bluetooth option as it is the least orwellian.

        2. Blazde

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          No smartphone here. My reasons are perfectly valid: I have a computer and I have phone, and both function better in their respective roles for being separate from the other.

          1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            Same for me. I have a netbook running Linux if I need to access the internet when I'm out & about, and a feature phone (with a physical keyboard) for phone calls and texting. Smartphones are too closed for my liking.

            1. AMBxx Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              I think I found your coat - it's the one with the giant pockets ;)

              1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
                Stop

                Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                My Asus eeePC 701 is surprisingly portable...

        3. jonha

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          > You get all sorts of funny folk here with spurious reasons for doing things a certain way.

          You get all sorts of funny folk here with spurious reasons for thinking things should be done in a certain way.

          1. e^iπ+1=0
            Go

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            Nothing to fear.

            Perhaps we'll all get a free, government supplied device.

            You may carry it with you.

            Should you choose not to, you will be arrested when staff are available.

            Those with nothing to hide will be fine.

            Checkpoints easy to find for those not sure.

            1. Dr Dan Holdsworth
              Boffin

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              If you can make a watch or other timepiece, with an e-ink display to reduce power consumption and a Bluetooth proximity detector as described, then this would likely be the most acceptable form of location tag.

              It would first of all be useful, so people would have more reason to carry it. It should not have wifi, but should have induction charging. Limit the storage capacity to, say, 30 days max but set a software limit to 14 days initially, and give no way to access the data other than Bluetooth via an authorised (by cryptographic key) Bluetooth station or electrical contacts actually on the device its self.

              In other words, you want a tag that is useful and does only the minimum that you want it to do and no more. Possibly a time-signal receiver as well, but definitely no WiFi system.

              Finally, make the devices freely available and explicitly permit people to dismantle them, complete with schematics and tamper-evident seals, to see what is inside.

              1. David Nash

                Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                It seems that many people don't wear watches these days because they think it's quicker to get their phone out and view the time than tilting their wrist. These people may not agree that this kind of device is useful as you said.

                But these people probably would just use a smartphone app.

                My issue with this is that I don't leave Bluetooth on all the time.

        4. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          The Bells!

          Don't be too surprised, it's rarely valid reasons behind their decisions - or it would just be the way everyone, or most, do it.

          But there are simple, low tech approaches that were used historically that have fewer privacy concerns. So create legislation that says everyone tested positve for Covid must wear bells and say 'Unclean!' every 5mins or face fines/house arrests. Worked in the old days of leprosy after all..

          Otherwise there are huge privacy concerns and risks. Like giving the 'social' media collossi access to medical records and a government approved method of contact reporting. There are huge risks for scope creep, especially if this is sold as a health benefit and people are socially conditioned to think that it's a good thing.

          There are also huge social challenges with creating modern lepers. Phones alert that someone has been infected. What would people do? Flee? Stone the unclean? Should shops & buildings install scanners so the unclean can be barred?

          And there are more mundane issues, like the purpose. There have been suggestions that people should get disease certificates. How will that work? It assumes people are regularly tested, especially as there are some reports that people can be re-infected/become infectious, and antibodies may give limited or temporary immunity. If so, then any surveillance system might have limited practical use and there would be the challenge of which population should remain isolated.

          But that's also the challenge of lifting isolation, ie if infectious people remain, lifting quarantine efforts will just start the epidemic off again. If that's the case, then more practical solutions would be to maintain quarantines until effective treatments or a vaccine become available. Or more mundane options like sending everyone a box of N95 masks, and fining people outdoors if they're not wearing one.

          1. Someone Else Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: The Bells!

            The tinfoil hat brigade chimes in (using a different set of bells):

            As the Mango Mussolini has loudly and proudly stated, Republicans cannot win an election fairly. Given that, I can easily see how, using the Republicon "Death Star", hacking the system to make, oh, say 5% of registered Democrats show up as Red or Yellow on say, November 1st in such places as Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Atlanta, Bangor, Lexington, and Helena might just be the ticket (pun intended) to lead to at least another 4 years of tRumpism.

            This is the perfect way to hack an election, or impose many other sorts of authoritarian population control. Don't think the MAGATs wouldn't use it? Here, I got some more of that nice cherry Kool-Aid for ya.

            The link is to an article in the Atlantic magazine; it's safe and free

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: The Bells!

              This is the perfect way to hack an election, or impose many other sorts of authoritarian population control. Don't think the MAGATs wouldn't use it?

              As an old politician once said, there are known unknowns etc, ie the way politicians, agencies or just businesses would abuse any contact tracing system. Rest is probably technofetishism. With electronic voting, there are many ways to hack an election. With a gullible public, there are many ways to influence one. But new tech would permit new abuses. One handy app could be to utilise anti-social distancing and automatically alert when Red/Blue forces are detected. Or maybe add contagion alerting so the people infected with the wrong ideology are disenfranchised. Or just gloss over constitutional points and suspend democracy for the duration of the election.

          2. richdin

            Re: The Bells!

            or Yellow six-pointed stars?

          3. hoola Bronze badge

            Re: The Bells!

            The consequences of identifying the users that are flagged by these apps is just beyond the concepts of the data grabbers using COVID as a way to start this. We ave already seen the problems in Hong Kong when apps were used to show "safe" areas.

            Unfortunately there are just too many people out their who will decide to lynch people, regardless. Given the moronic behaviour of people reacting to posts on Facebook etc about 5G this will only end is a total disaster.

          4. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: The Bells!

            "So create legislation that says everyone tested positve for Covid must wear bells and say 'Unclean!' every 5mins or face fines/house arrests. "

            They should be required to have somebody waving a red flag walk ahead of them.

        5. Someone Else Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          Just waiting for someone to chime in they don't even have a smartphone.

          Consider me chimed, and happily too!

          1. Tweetiepooh

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            Don't have any form of mobile phone for personal use. Don't need to want one. Have one for work but won't carry that around when not working.

          2. RegGuy1 Silver badge

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            I've got an iPhone. But it's not smart!

        6. Doctor Evil

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          No smartphone here. I have an LG GR500 (touchscreen + physical keyboard). It works just fine for making phone calls and texting -- all I need/want it to do.

        7. Getmo

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          Oh bother, now you've done it!

          You just had to bait them, didn't you? Of course this site is going to have a ton of cranky graybeards who never upgraded their Nokia.

      2. Sleep deprived

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        My minimal cell phone plan offers calls and SMS. I can also use my smartphone for offline GPS navigation, and email or browsing whenever I have wifi (in malls, stores, hotels, libraries, theaters, airports, etc.).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          >My minimal cell phone plan offers calls and SMS.

          How much a month is that vs one with data?

          In EU countries even the €0-2 per month tariffs have a Gig of 4G data included these days.

          Hope you've got VPN set up for using all those public WiFi spots.

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            In EU countries even the €0-2 per month tariffs have a Gig of 4G data included these days.

            I think that's a little optimistic.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              "I think that's a little optimistic.”

              Here: https://mobile.free.fr/fiche-forfait-2-euros.html

              You're welcome.

              I guess that's the problem when one is used to getting ripped-off for everything. One assumes that it's just normal.

              1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                That offer is limitd until the end of the month. I think you'll get the best deals in the Baltic states, but elsewhere you're looking at around € 8 - 10 for 4GB on a plan that also lets you make calls. I more than get by with my 1 GB and 150 minutes for € 6.

                Of course, what police nanny states can do to get people to give them their data is to offer to pay for the relevant data…

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                  "That offer is limitd until the end of the month."

                  Free always has offer on. But if you insist on another example ...

                  https://www.symamobile.com/

                  Admittedly in Spain it's an eyewatering €4.90

                  https://www.hitsmobile.es/en/contrato/hablar-y-navegar-internacional-1gb-100min

          2. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: Good for data-less phone plans

            In EU countries even the €0-2 per month tariffs have a Gig of 4G data included these days.

            Obligatory XKCD

            The cheapest deal I know of in the UK at the moment is £6 per month for 500MB, unlimited calls and texts. This is cheaper (just) than the tariffs we are currently on though it wasn't available when we signed up to those, and Giff Gaff's continuous credit card authorisation model may not be to everyone's liking.

            M.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Good for data-less phone plans

              I think I can beat that: smarty.co.uk do a rolling 1GB/month 3/4G, unlimited minutes also for £6.

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: Good for data-less phone plans

                Thanks - I may be on the lookout for another low-cost plan shortly and having a variety is always a good idea. Some of our phones are on EE directly, some on an MVNO which uses EE, Giff Gaff is an MVNO which uses O2 - and is owned by O2 - while Smarty seems to be an MVNO using, and owned by 3. 3 doesn't quite have the coverage that EE does around here, but having once been stuck in a holiday cottage where only one network was (barely) available, and it wasn't one any of the five phones in the house was registered to, I'm quite happy to diversify these days...

                M.

      3. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        "Curious.... why do you not use cellular data?"

        1. They have no need for it?

        2. They want to save money?

        3. They don't want to be tracked everywhere?

        Me personally, about 90% of apps have it disabled. Means I can have cheaper plan, less adverts and yes, less creepy tracking.

        1. ridley

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          Whilst I agree with your sentiment I would not suggest you accompany the BOFH whilst composting a roll of carpet with your phone turned on, data package or not.

      4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        No signal at home? (Just a guess,but it affects plenty of people.)

      5. baud Bronze badge

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        Because mobile plan without cellular data are much cheaper? I mean my own plan didn't have any cellular data until the operator (Orange) added it for free a few years ago.

      6. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        Money?

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        Phil Kingston>>> Curious.... why do you not use cellular data?

        I'm guessing OP lives in one of those backwards countries where people still get ripped off by their mobile service providers. Probably US or UK.

        1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

          Curious.... why do you not use cellular data

          Because there is nothing I feel the need to do on a piddly little screen when I'm out and about.

          If I'm at home then I have wifi and decent-sized screen (tv and monitor), if I am out then I am either at someone else's house who has wifi or I'm somewhere I don't want to be playing with my phone.

          I have satnav for the car and 'proper' (OS) maps if I want to get off the beaten track and go for a wander around the countryside (except not while under Lockdown, naturally).

        2. Sleep deprived

          Re: Good for data-less phone plans

          Canada has the most expensive cell phone rates in the world. I pay 10$CDN per month (7,5€ incl. taxes) for 100 minutes and 100 SMS. I could pay more and get data access, I can afford it, but I don't feel I need it so much and decided to vote with my feet.

          For example, a Bell plan with unlimited calls and 2Gb would be 38$CDN a month (28€ incl. taxes). See https://www.planhub.ca

      8. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        I leave Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and data switched off when I'm not actively using them. Go to DefCon or any other similar "con" in the world and attend the presentations. If you don't start being a bit more concerned about what your phone is doing when you aren't looking at it, you need to get help.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Good for data-less phone plans

      WHAT makes ANYBODY think that THIS kind of TRACKING CRapp on YOUR PHONE is a GOOD THING???

      And THIS sort of thing is why _I_ _STILL_ _USE_ _A_ _DUMB_ _PHONE_.

      You mightr as wel DELIBERATELY GET INFECTED so you can "flash your WHO immunity card" after you RECOVER [which in 98% of cases, you will]. Oh, don't like THAT idea? Seriously the WORLD has gone WAY TO FAR with this... and GIVING AWAY YOUR PRIVACY AND FREEDOM is NOT ANY KIND OF SOLUTION!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good for data-less phone plans

        TS;DR

        Too Shouty; Didn't read.

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    British soln

    Have your phone attached to the wall of your house by a wire. Then you can be assured that people with phones are isolated at home.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: British soln

      Have your phone attached to the wall of your house by a wire. Then you can be assured that people with phones are isolated at home.

      Can we not move with the times? Rabbit phones would enable people to be tracked at the time of making a call, though the wisdom of bringing strangers into proximity of your building right now may be debatable.

      1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

        Re: British soln

        Rabbit Phones? Blimey......

        During the good tidy out of house, garage and loft this past few weeks I have uncovered parts of a Rabbit base station I picked up many years back, hoping to install it at home with a couple of handsets in place of the expensive at the time cordless or early mobile phones.

        It has just sat gathering dust since around 1991 though..... And I haven't found the handsets for it yet.

        1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

          Re: British soln

          An update - just took another look at the box, and I do have a handset. But it's a Zonephone, rather than the better known Rabbit phone...

          Oh the memories....

          1. ridley

            Re: British soln

            I used multiple Rabbit phones at my home business, allowed the same handsets to access multiple lines without spending loads.

            Worked great for years.

            Happy memories

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Bluetooth by itself = FAIL

      The problem with a bluetooth only scheme is that all it tells you is that you were within 50 meters or so, rather than the 2-3 meters of interest. In other words, just checking if people are within bluetooth range will create about 300 more false contacts than valid ones if you scale by area. To make any sense, it needs to be combined with GPS.

      1. dirtygreen

        Re: Bluetooth by itself = FAIL

        If you think that, you need to look at the Singapore TraceTogether code then, since it estimates the distance apart of the two BT phones quite cleverly.

      2. davidp231

        Re: Bluetooth by itself = FAIL

        It would also require bluetooth to be turned on.. not everybody walks around with bluetooth enabled, just for all and sundry to try and 'drop' something onto their device. Plus it makes the battery last a little longer.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Bluetooth by itself = FAIL

          Plus it makes the battery last a little longer.

          I usually have BT turned off, but BT's use of battery is absolutely minuscule compared with GPS and WiFi, so its impact on battery life is similarly small.

          Also (to a previous), 50m is optimistic for Bluetooth - particularly the BLE commonly found in phones. 10m is a good estimate for usable range, though you can sometimes get further.

          M.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bluetooth by itself = FAIL

        "To make any sense, it needs to be combined with GPS."

        Which isn't always much closer than 50 meters or so... and is typically useless indoors (at $dayjob GPS could tell me I was within 500 meters or so)

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Bluetooth by itself = FAIL

          Much more like 5 metres from observation. Sometimes it drifts out further when I’m indoors.

  3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Proximity

    Proximity by electro-magnetic means can be quite different from proximity as far as spread of the virus is concerned.

    For instance, a wall or ceiling/floor between accommodation, or being in a car/not being in a car can facilitate communication by electro-magnetic means, but no inference can be made of infection transmission.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Proximity

      Valid point, but Bluetooth has - as I understand it - a method of determining roughly how far away a device is. Walls are not barriers but they do attenuate the signal quite well. BT has a nominal 10m range but put a block wall in the way and 5m is optimistic. Combine this with an app which measures received signal strength and expects a two-way handshake (otherwise how are these keys going to be exchanged) and you can limit false positives.

      It has to be better than GPS which will struggle in most built-up environments to better 10m or 5m accuracy and doesn't work at all inside most buildings.

      M.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Proximity

        Valid point, but Bluetooth has - as I understand it - a method of determining roughly how far away a device is.

        Only in combinatin with NFC.

        But basically, as covid-19 is essentially endemic in much of the world, this is tilting at windmills.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Proximity

          Are you sure? NFC only works in very close proximity (single digit centimetres - the clue's in the name). When I was looking at using Bluetooth for an I-beacon-like purpose, I'm pretty certain the API (Python library on a Raspberry Pi) offered a RSSI - a received signal strength indicator - and a signal quality (error count) indicator. I was intending to use it to determine if the target device was in the same room or was in an adjacent area. You could quite easily set a limit at which you could be fairly sure the phone was within (say) 5m "open field", which would probably indicate 2 or 3m if both endpoints are in a bag or a pocket and probably discount anything the other side of a reasonably substantial wall.

          It would not count for thin physical barriers such as the Perspex shields supermarkets have installed but it's difficult to conceive of an easy-to-use technology which would.

          M.

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Proximity

            The research from Singapore, which was one of the first to adopt such a system, says they were tripped up by the extremely variable power outputs of Bluetooth devices so that signal strength alone isn't sufficient, which is why you need something passive like the RFC protocol.

            Worth noting, in passing, that the tracking in Singapore doesn't seem to have helped that much. But that's what you'd expect with a highly infectious epidemic that's had time to spread.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              Re: Proximity

              Just look at Singapore geography, and compare it to UK (which is still an island), or larger countries with many more places to go....

              1. Dave 126 Silver badge

                Re: Proximity

                There are several 'Find your Bluetooth Device' apps for Android, which tells me that the signal strength of a BT connection is available to Apps.

                Still, for contact tracing the nominal 10M of Bluetooth is still useful - fuzzy data is better than none.

                I tried using such an app after dropping my BT earphones somewhere amongst the brambles in the garden. It's akin to the children's game of Hot or Cold - obviously there's no direction given (can't triangulate with only two points), just whether the signal is getting stronger or weaker as you move.

            2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: Proximity= Sim Pandemic?

              Worth noting, in passing, that the tracking in Singapore doesn't seem to have helped that much. But that's what you'd expect with a highly infectious epidemic that's had time to spread.

              I'm wondering if it could be more useful to improve modelling. So one problem with this tracking is getting people to download the app, unless it's pushed to mobiles. Or if the app could reliably detect another mobile 2m away, if the app could be spread by bluetooth. If so, it'd spread like, well, a virus (or worm) and infection rate monitored. Then reliability of infection might also be applicable to probability of wetware infection. So being <2m away from an infected person doesn't guarantee transmission, but could send a sim-cough to simulate spread.

              But that would also have privacy concerns, plus the risk of the app-virus mutating after it's viral code has been re-written and hijacked. Also, given smart phones can be passive listening devices (hey, Siri..), it would also be possible to listen for frequent coughing. Kinda healthy spyware in an unhealthy ecosystem.

  4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

    How long before the first fake "tracing" apps loaded with malware appear?

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

      How long before the first fake "tracing" apps loaded with malware appear?

      It's all fake already, isn't it?

      I mean, if you live in a tiny village, this may be marginally more effective than a note in the corner shop window, but there its usefulness seems to end.

      I take the train to work, when work resumes, which is very close proximity to 1000 strangers per day. My colleagues do the same. Thats before several trains try to disembark at the same time in the station, and before you get several thousand people waiting on the concourse for the train home. Unless trains will only allow about 40 or 50 people to board, and they are guaranteed to run tot he minute so there's no cramming the station ahead of time, social distancing on them will be impossible.

      Then we get to the same office, where if we are to socially distance ourselves, only 1/6th of my crew could attend on a given day. Queuing 2 meters apart, even a meter apart isn't going to happen in London as there's not the pavement space to allow it.

      My phone would simply be sending daily amber and red warnings for the contacts I'd have. Any attempt at resuming normal life will render lockdown worthless - if my train involves a cast of thousands, the additional risk of a hundred in the pub is limited, or the restaurant, or the cinema.

      As I've been saying from the start, lockdown or some flavor of it will be with us until we're all vaccinated or until there are effective treatments to significantly reduce the death rate.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

        As I've been saying from the start, lockdown or some flavor of it will be with us until we're all vaccinated or until there are effective treatments to significantly reduce the death rate.

        I doubt that, for many reasons.

        A prolonged lockdown will do huge economic damage, which itself could result in many deaths, so there has to be a measure of balance somewhere. Vaccines usually take 12-18 months to develop, even if one can be found. We can't stay locked down for that long.

        We also have to recognise that, so far, this virus has been linked to the deaths of 0.02% of the UK population. That means that most of the people on lockdown have neither been affected, nor know anyone affected. Sooner or later people will, rightly or wrongly, decide that they've had enough. They will either assume it's all a waste of time, or decide "what the hell, just catch it & get it over with". Not necessarily sensible attitudes, but inevitable ones, and faced with a backlash like that it simply won't be possible to maintain a lockdown.

        I'd say that governments have about a month to start easing the lockdown for most people (elderly/vulnerable ones excluded) if they want to keep control of the situation. By that time the contagion rate should have dropped, most people who would have spread it will be either cured or dead. With sensible distancing measures, testing, and large events like festivals (where good hygiene is difficult) banned, things should stabilise. It wouldn't surprise me to see travel bans or quarantines in effect as well, at least to/from countries considered to still be risk areas.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

          A prolonged lockdown will do huge economic damage

          Its not the lockdown that will do the most damage, it's the distancing - it knackers all social stuff from events through to pubs or restaurants & cinemas.

          Vaccines usually take 12-18 months to develop, even if one can be found. We can't stay locked down for that long.

          People won't want to, but they certainly could if the need arose. We're not really locked down in the sense of some places - we can still go out shopping for food/essentials (quite why off-licences are essential and bookshops are not is one for the social historians of the future), and we're free to go out once per day for an hour of exercise. It could certainly be worse.

          so far, this virus has been linked to the deaths of 0.02% of the UK population

          True, but the mortality rate of those testing positive in the UK is around 15%, rising to 50% if you land in ICU. That assumes you can even get admitted to the hospital.

          You're also ignoring the significant lung damage and neurological problems that stem from a bad infection with this particular virus. The life long consequences are obviously going to affect those with the most years of life left the hardest. If I can't run any more marathons or fight any more boxing matches, then I'll just have to remember the ones I've done.

          At my age I'm losing active ability to do physical challenges in the next 10 or 15 years anyway. If you're 20 and get damaged by this, its going to be a longer schlep for you being unable to do them.

          Post infection if I can't grasp the ins and outs of complex problems I'll just have to move more fully into management. A 20 year old is going to end up on the career scrap heap if they suffer damage to their executive functions.

          faced with a backlash like that it simply won't be possible to maintain a lockdown

          Sure it is - you just make the penalty for breaking it similar to Italy - £3000 fine for breaking lock down, 1 year in jail if you lie to the police when questioned about it, and 3 years in jail if you then test positive for COVID.

          I'd say that governments have about a month to start easing the lockdown for most people (elderly/vulnerable ones excluded)

          And therein lies the problem. You can't say to the over 65s that the NHS won't treat them if they get this, and that IS what doctors are now doing, and then allow all and sundry out to resume their lives while the retired look on from what will then effectively be house arrest for being old.

          How do you propose to introduce social distancing on a rush hour train? If you can't answer that, then there's no point in closing the pubs or restaurants etc. To then seek to lock up older people "for their own good" simply won't wash.

          Public transport isn't geared for social distancing, and we've spunked the last 30 years on anti-car rhetoric and making driving harder, so we can't all hop in our cars and drive to work now - roads and parking couldn't cope.

          We're all in this together, which means that the young are going to have to get used to lockdown, because the alternative is that age and related conditions cannot be a barrier to equal treatment by the NHS. First come first served won't end well for those egotists that are so averse to their own company that they'd rather risk death and condemn the elderly to a life of solitude, than stay home and work from there.

          I want this all to end so I can travel again, go for a drive, eat out, watch a movie or hit the theater, maybe go see a lecture some place or a concert. Mostly I want it to end so I can visit my parents. "Society" if it exists, needs to be about more than individuals immediate wants though, or there's no point in it at all.

          Normality isn't coming back until at the latter half of next year if we can;t find some effective treatments for COVID in lieu of a vaccine. People may as well start mentally adjusting for the fact. We're not sacrificing Gen Xer's parents lives because Gen Y are bored at home. Sorry.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

            True, but the mortality rate of those testing positive in the UK is around 15%

            That's not the point I was making. I'm saying that the number of deaths is sufficiently low that most people in the UK will not know anyone in their immediate entourage who is affected, so it will seem (to many people) not to be serious. It's a perception issue.

            Sure it is - you just make the penalty for breaking it similar to Italy - £3000 fine for breaking lock down, 1 year in jail if you lie to the police when questioned about it, and 3 years in jail if you then test positive for COVID.

            Only works if people go along with it. If a million or so people decided to ignore lockdown there's no way the civil authorities in any country could cope, the system would be overwhelmed. At the moment the authorities are banking on the deterrent value of a hefty fine, but how many months of lockdown will people tolerate before civil disturbance explodes? We've seen that happen many times across the decades, for various reasons.

            I want this all to end so I can travel again, go for a drive, eat out, watch a movie or hit the theater, maybe go see a lecture some place or a concert. Mostly I want it to end so I can visit my parents.

            Me too, of course. My Mum is in her 80s and lives in another country, it will be months before I can see her again.

            Normality isn't coming back until at the latter half of next year if we can;t find some effective treatments for COVID in lieu of a vaccine. People may as well start mentally adjusting for the fact. We're not sacrificing Gen Xer's parents lives because Gen Y are bored at home. Sorry.

            Easy to say, but I really don't think society as a whole will tolerate it. No matter how hard you screw down the lid on a boiling pot, it will eventually explode without a safety valve. I'm not saying that I want or advise that, of course not, but we have to face the reality that you can't keep 70m people bottled up in their homes for a year "just in case". We need a realistic medium-term plan to get out of this, even if we can't cure or palliate the effects of the virus, the alternative is likely to be worse.

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

              If a million or so people decided to ignore lockdown there's no way the civil authorities in any country could cope, the system would be overwhelmed.

              Which is where the Italian deterrent level sentencing comes into play. Then you come down hard on the first transgressors and everyone else thinking about how much fun a riot or breaking lockdown would be stops thinking about it in terms of fun and starts thinking that they don't fancy 3 years as someones prison wife.

              how many months of lockdown will people tolerate before civil disturbance explodes?

              Rather a lot as it happens. Provided you remove the initiating neds from circulation on day one and hit them hard (jail for years not fines they won't pay).

              My Mum is in her 80s and lives in another country, it will be months before I can see her again.

              I wish her all the best, and hope you are able to meet again at the other end of this.

              Easy to say, but I really don't think society as a whole will tolerate it.

              There's no such thing as society really, just individual men & women and families. Provided you clear away the rabblerousers pronto then you'll find the majority of people simply go along with it. Its particularly helpful if you then frame it in terms of doing your bit for the country, which is something people can feel is contributing.

              We need a realistic medium-term plan to get out of this, even if we can't cure or palliate the effects of the virus, the alternative is likely to be worse.

              I think we'll see a slackening of the lock down by end of summer, but it won't feel much like it to people. The public transport and workplaces are unlikely to resume normal operation, and I can't see them allowing pubs, restaurants, cinemas etc to reopen. Its easy to keep the old folk in their homes when there's nothing out there for them to do, but as soon as the pubs are back you've changed the game.

          2. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

            > (quite why off-licences are essential and bookshops are not is one for the social historians of the future)

            Because various Chief Medical Officers in a range of territories have told policy makers in no uncertain times "We do not want people with delerium tremens in our hospitals". Worse, people trying to make their own booze or drinking antifreeze or hand sanitizer ( which, even surprising Australian medical students, happended in a hospital down under a few years back).

            As for books... if you run out of literature, then reading a Jeffery Archer won't actually lead to organise failure,though it may make you ill. There's nothing stopping local bookshops offering a home delivery service. People who like airport thrillers can find them in supermarkets. People having their shopping done for them can ask their volunteers to help them swap books with other biddies on the round. The rest of us likely have some unread books kicking around... if I'm not going to read Gravity's Rainbow now, then when am I?

            Remember, next time you panic buy- you can use books as bog roll but you can't use bog roll as reading matter.

            1. Tromos

              Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

              > (quite why off-licences are essential and bookshops are not is one for the social historians of the future)

              Books are available online. Ever tried downloading a bottle of IPA?

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

              "but you can't use bog roll as reading matter."

              Back in the days of Izal and the like you could. The plot was a bit weak and repetitive though. "Please Wash Your Hands" in red on every "page". If you were lucky, you might get the sequel "Government Property".

            3. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

              if you run out of literature, then reading a Jeffery Archer won't actually lead to organise failure,though it may make you ill.

              I dunno, I quite enjoyed his prison diaries.

              Remember, next time you panic buy- you can use books as bog roll but you can't use bog roll as reading matter.

              Shortsighted fool that I am, I have mostly ebooks..... though there may be some SQL Server 6 books in the loft....

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

            "True, but the mortality rate of those testing positive in the UK is around 15%, rising to 50% if you land in ICU. That assumes you can even get admitted to the hospital."

            Not forgetting that until very recently, the only people being tested were those turning up at hospital with advanced and serious symptoms. We currently have NO IDEA how many have been infected and recovered with either no symptoms, mild symptoms or symptoms at least weak enough the person didn't go to hospital. Even now, testing is limited to front-line NHS staff and their families, so the mortality rate of tested people will continue to registers as abnormally high.

          4. Not previously required

            Medical facts straight

            "significant lung damage and neurological problems that stem from a bad infection with this particular virus."

            Quite a large number of people are going to be left with respiratory damage. Not my specialty. There are very few direct neurological consequences, which is my specialty. Perhaps I should add "so far". Of course if you are really knocked off with bad lung disease and drop your oxygen levels low enough, long enough you might sustain some secondary brain damage. Probably not as much as if you are boxing though, which is well known to cause several different types of brain damage.

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Medical facts straight

              There have been few direct neurological problems from Covid, but the evidence that there are some does exist and seemingly grows by the day.

              https://www.wired.com/story/what-does-covid-19-do-to-your-brain/

              https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-ravages-the-lungs-it-also-affects-the-brain-11586896119

              https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/survivors-severe-covid-19-beating-virus-just-beginning

              https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200402/in-some-cases-covid-19-may-harm-the-brain#1

              Not the most scientific of sources I'll freely admit, and it isn't my area of specialty, however, I think it's probably reasonable to state that for some people recovering from Covid there will be lifelong consequences, for some it will be respiratory issues, for some cardio vascular, and for some (probably fewer) neurological.

              Terms life "very few" or "rare" don't really apply when you're talking of billions of people. One in a million is still thousands of people.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

        > It's all fake already, isn't it?

        It can be helpful - just look at South Korea - in informing policy and people's own actions.

        See

        https://www.ft.com/coronavirus-latest

        for how different South Korea's graph looks to other countries.

        >As I've been saying from the start, lockdown or some flavor of it will be with us until we're all vaccinated or until there are effective treatments to significantly reduce the death rate.

        In any case, it has never been policy to have lockdown until a vaccine (which is many months away at the earliest) is in place, the lock down is to slow down infections so that that the NHS can cope - 'flattening the curve'. Using a ventilator is 'an effective treatment' but only if they're available. Having most Corvid cases spread across six months instead of two makes all the difference.

      3. Phil Kingston

        Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

        >My phone would simply be sending daily amber and red warnings for the contacts I'd have.

        That would be the point

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

      POLITICIANS will use this to play on people's worries, and like the TECH COMPANIES have ALREADY done, will SOFT-SELL YOUR PRIVACY AWAY FOREVER!!!

      GDPR doesn't protect you FROM THE GUMMINT, you know...

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

        Okay Bob. Try linking to the appropriate information, eh? There's a good twat.

        For example:

        https://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2020/03/18/coronavirus-bill-the-biggest-expansion-in-executive-power-we

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Crooks will use this to play on people's worries

      The biggest Crooks apps will be launched by a Government Committee in the name of "Public Safety", but then track you in the interests of the Security Committee, Citizen.

  5. Alan J. Wylie

    Bluetooth vulnerabilities

    Blackview, the manufacturer of my cheap, but rugged device, don't care about releasing new versions of firmware to fix critical Bluetooth vulnerabilities. For this reason, I keep Bluetooth turned off most of the time.

    1. Iad Uroboros's Nemesis

      Re: Bluetooth vulnerabilities

      Yes, I was thinking along similar lines that many don't have Bluetooth turned on for many reasons.

      I keep my Bluetooth turned off because it is still very battery-draining...and that's with an iPhone 11 Pro. Yeah, I am too lazy to check whether having this turned off now means that it is still not broadcasting anything bluetooth-y. I bloody well hope not.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Bluetooth vulnerabilities

        I keep my Bluetooth turned off because it is still very battery-draining

        Not if it's not doing anything, it isn't.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Bluetooth vulnerabilities

          Not if it's not doing anything, it isn't.

          It's always doing something, even if just waiting for a connect request from a paired device. I normally have BT turned on (but discovery off, of course) so that it links to my car when I start the engine. When I was on holiday I didn't have a car with me, so after a few days I remembered to turn the BT off. The effect on battery life was noticeable (this was a Samsung Android phone).

  6. macjules Silver badge

    Use of proximity-tracking for criminal cases

    ... a contact-tracing app which builds a memory of proximity contacts

    If I recall correctly there is an app that detects phone proximity specifically by a combination of SIM and IMEI tracking. This was being touted a few years ago as a method of preventing continued harassment by perpetrators of domestic violence against their victims. In particular there was a need to check that the perp was not using a 'burner phone' so the police could backtrack it's location history to see if it was ever in proximity to the perp's original phone.

    It looked very simple to run and set up, It was trialled by Norfolk Constabulary but I do not think it was ever adopted by any major police force.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Use of proximity-tracking for criminal cases

      That would be based on the network cell data, which is "good enough" for that kind of task and can be enforced by court order but uselss for the kind of "ant tracking" that eveyone is somehow will solve the problem. It won't, of course, but there is research funding going and PR to be had.

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Use of proximity-tracking for criminal cases

        Good point!

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Use of proximity-tracking for criminal cases

        Contact tracing, in conjunction with rapid testing and people not being twats, has been shown to very effective in reducing the load on health services - see South Korea.

        A chain is only as strong etc

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Use of proximity-tracking for criminal cases

          Everyone keeps missing the 800kg gorilla in the corner - these apps, whatever method they use, *depend on quick, reliable testing of significant numbers of people*. This isn't even close to being available - the tests are slow, they have about 20% false negative and 10% false positive rates, and there aren't enough to test the people at most risk. Worse yet, there are no better tests closer than press releases.

  7. NIck Hunn

    First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

    Here in London I'd take a guess that every NHS worker will come within range of someone with Covid-19 during the course of their working day, as will most bus drivers and other front-line staff. So they will all be warned to stay at home and self-isolate. Result - London shuts down and lots more people die.

    The question is who does this actually help? The fortunate few like us, who have the privilege of being able to work from home, the front-line workers, or politicians desperate for a quick answer? Essentially, we're turning the knobs to balance Government spending, the economy and the number of people we bury. Anyone rushing into developing an app needs to understand that. This isn't just a case of tech going to save the world - it's tech being used to balance Government surveillance, long term costs and the death rate. I don't know where the balance is for that equation, but that's what we need to be debating, not which tech to roll out.

    If you've not listened to Emily Maitlis' overview of who is really suffering from Covid-19, watch it now - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6wIcpdJyCI. It's very relevant to this debate.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

      The knob should definitely be as far away from government surveillance as possible, and likelily that will even mean lower long term cost too. As to death rate, nobody knows what the effect of certain measures is. It's too late to get the virus under control the way Taiwan and South Korea did through these means, so I'm unsure what the Western governments want to achieve by introducing them. Likely it won't even make a difference in the transfer/new case rate, since it has way too much of a delay between when people have contact and when they get alerted.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

        way too much of a delay

        I think the idea is that person A infects person B. Person B finds out some time later (not too long, but not immediately) that s/he has been close to person A and self isolates, either before B has had the chance to become infectious him/herself or before B has had the chance to infect very many other people. In this way the "r" number everyone's talking about (the average number of infections caused by one infectious carrier) can be reduced.

        Given that there may be a day or three of delay between becoming infected and becoming infectious, and that many people will be symptomless or symptom-light carriers for up to 14 days, anything that causes person B to isolate, even if not immediately, should help to slow (though not stop) the spread.

        It's good in theory. Practice is another matter.

        M.

        1. Iad Uroboros's Nemesis
          Black Helicopters

          Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

          "...and that many people will be symptomless or symptom-light carriers for up to 14 days..."

          Hate to say it but even 14 days is too short and is part of the still-present-herd-immunity strategic approach:

          "The shortest observed duration of viral shedding among survivors was 8 days, whereas the longest was 37 days. The median duration of viral shedding was 20·0 days (IQR 17·0–24·0) in survivors, but continued until death in fatal cases"

          https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30566-3/fulltext

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

            Martin was talking about time from infection to time symptons might appear - i.e, if you emerge from solitary after two weeks of last meeting anyone, the chances of you having the virus are next to nil. Iad was talking about time from onset of symptoms to being non contagious.

            Two different things, Iad.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

        > It's too late to get the virus under control the way Taiwan and South Korea did through these means, so I'm unsure what the Western governments want to achieve by introducing them.

        It might be too late to get this virus under control. A pandemic like this has been considered highly likely for decades and it won't be the last.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. dirtygreen

      Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

      No because the app measures how long you are next to the other person and discounts short periods of closeness.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

      The question is who does this actually help?

      The nail hit on head. Firmly.

      We didn't get from a pandemic (tragic but also not infrequent) to a crisis of this proportions without some help from the fear industry. One result is massive fiscal expansion, something which the financial markets have been calling for for a while now.

      My proposal to help everyone is a new insurance policy from MM Enterprises: a personal supply of PPE for the next pandemic for the small monthly premium of $ 50…

    4. TRT Silver badge

      Re: First, understand the problem you're trying to solve...

      Also with a London-centric view to things... GPS is going to be utterly useless due to lack of open sky visibility on the Tube, which, let's face it, is where we are mostly going to be catching it.

  8. IGotOut Silver badge

    False positives could be off the scale.

    Say you live above your local CoOp or Nisa, or you live on a busy street in a house with the living room at the front and you leave your phone next to say the window. What's to stop it pinging every single person that passes?

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: False positives could be off the scale.

      This could partly be solved by the Bluetooth method rather than GPS (BT would also more easily deal with the situation where both parties are mobile as on a bus), but to be doubly-sure you could also build-in some kind of count, so it needs (say) five strong pings over five consecutive minutes to register a "contact". I have no idea if it's currently the advice, but the 2m rule used to be have the caveat that just walking past someone wasn't a problem (unless, I suppose, they coughed at exactly the wrong moment), it was being in such close proximity of a person for 10 or 15 minutes. There's obviously some kind of statistical tipping-point being sought.

      M.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: False positives could be off the scale.

        > There's obviously some kind of statistical tipping-point being sought.

        Much too complicated (expensive). I'm willing to bet that the official app will just count BT discovery handshakes and store the encountered IDs in a simple text file. (Besides, there is value in that data, it allows to determine quite precise crowd movement dynamics, which would be valuable to a lot of people, from transport authorities and city planners to marketers. And yes, there is also that COVID-19 issue too.)

        Hoping that some smartphone app will be able to reliably find and quarantine sick people is magical thinking. There are problems on all levels: People don't all have smartphones, not everyone has Bluetooth on (and on discovery), a BT connection doesn't necessary mean that two people came into infection range and situation (breathing each other's air), and the resulting huge amount of already vague data will prevent any sophisticated processing. As a result, and since one need to err on the side of caution, false positives will abound and people will quickly lose faith in the app. And that's without even mentioning those who will refuse to use it from the start (for various reasons including but not limited to privacy/paranoia, lack of suitable hardware, battery issues, deliberate attempt to go unnoticed for various reasons, etc.).

        I'm afraid the point here is not to do something, but to be seen doing something.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: False positives could be off the scale.

          "People don't all have smartphones, not everyone has Bluetooth on (and on discovery)"

          Can't solve the first issue, but the second issue is why apps ask for certain permissions and won't install or run unless they are granted.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: False positives could be off the scale.

            Sorry, I might be dense, but how exactly does not installing or running solve the Bluetooth availability problem? Remember, the goal of this app is to have everybody use it, else it's pointless.

            The only way I see to have everybody (suitably equipped) emitting and receiving IDs at all time, is to take over peoples' phones and decide BT is henceforth always-on, always-sending, there is nothing the user can do to disable it. And if you do that, I think you'll agree there will be quite some backlash, especially from people with older, vulnerable chipsets and/or asthmatic batteries. It might even be illegal in some places.

            Ergo it will be a approximate solution with a huge amount of false positives and negatives, medically as relevant as reading tea leaves. Still useful for marketing data though, as those have always thrived on vague "trends" and "tendencies"...

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: False positives could be off the scale.

      Or standing close to someone in a park versus in an air-conditioned room.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: False positives could be off the scale.

      >you live on a busy street in a house with the living room at the front and you leave your phone next to say the window

      You line your window with aluminium foil of course

      1. Bluto Nash

        Re: False positives could be off the scale.

        Does that REPLACE my hat or just supplement it?

  9. Russell Chapman Esq.

    Maybe I have missed the point

    If I'm going to use an app, I want it to tell me who to avoid, I don't want to know I have been in contact with an infected one after the fact. Secondly, the only way to know who to avoid via app is if we are mass antigen testing the population, getting the info into a database which can be accessed in real-time, which here in the UK is not happening. So correct me if I'm wrong but these apps will at best be able to tell you if you have already come into contact with one of the few who have actually been tested and positive for the virus, which is a bit late in my book. Am I wrong?

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Maybe I have missed the point

      Am I wrong?

      I think so.

      In much the same way that facemasks are beginning to be advised, the point of a tracking app is not to protect the individual, but to slow the rate of spread from infectious people who do not yet realise they are infectious.

      "Normal" facemasks work a lot better at preventing you spraying droplets of virus out if you are yourself infected than they do at stopping you breathing in someone else's droplets, because as anyone who has worn a facemask for DIY work will tell you, it's almost impossible to get a perfect seal and you will end up with streaks of dust on your fizzog where the air you breathe has gone under the mask, rather than through it.

      If someone finds out they have the virus and registers that on an app, you yourself might get a warning that you met them three days ago. Yes, you might already be infected but crucially, you might not yet be infectious, so by isolating yourself on receiving that notice you will stop yourself spreading the thing further and save other people.

      There does seem to be a little bit of a divide growing in some places between people who are considering the "whole picture" and those who are just looking after themselves.

      M.

      1. Russell Chapman Esq.

        Re: Maybe I have missed the point

        I have no problem with an App being used, its just missing working in conjunction with massive testing of the population. I started following Dr John Campbell on YouTube back in January. Once it was officially an epidemic in China and obviously different epidemiology to SARS back in the 2000's, governments around the world had a window of opportunity to get PPE, antigen testing and contact tracing etc in place weeks ago. That opportunity was wasted because of reactivity rather than proactivity.

        I bought P3 level masks and litres of hand sanitizer in February, for me and my family, it was obvious what was going to happen.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Maybe I have missed the point

          litres of hand sanitizer in February, for me and my family

          Thus helping to create the shortages for those who really need it. Soap & water is cheaper, more effective, and less damaging for your skin.

          1. Russell Chapman Esq.

            Re: Maybe I have missed the point

            I bought the hand sanitizer long before the lockdown, at the start of the incubation period of this virus here in the UK, in February. There was no social distancing, lots of shared contact surfaces while out and about. While many were laughing at me for wearing a mask on the Tube, I was helping my family stay as safe as possible, when outside. What precautions were you taking back then, or did you laugh to yourself and mock anyone who looked a bit daft in a mask.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: Maybe I have missed the point

              > While many were laughing at me for wearing a mask on the Tube, I was helping my family stay as safe as possible, when outside.

              Oh well, correct outcome for the wrong reasons.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Maybe I have missed the point

              What precautions were you taking back then

              Regularly washing my hands, working from home when I could, generally avoiding large crowds. My wife is in the vulnerable category (asthma) so we were both being sensible.

              or did you laugh to yourself and mock anyone who looked a bit daft in a mask.

              No, I just felt vaguely sorry for those who thought it made a difference, when WHO guidance was (and still is) that anything less than a PP3 mask is useful only to stop infected people spreading the virus, and even PP3 masks should only be worn by people, like medical practitioners, who are in close regular contact with people whose state is unknown. Ordinary masks don't stop the virus, are worse than useless after half an hour when they've become damp, and encourage people to touch their face more often, which is counter-productive.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: Maybe I have missed the point

                "Ordinary masks don't stop the virus, are worse than useless after half an hour when they've become damp, and encourage people to touch their face more often, which is counter-productive."

                Yes! A warm humid environment is great for bacteria and viruses. If you aren't accustomed to wearing a mask and have been trained for it, your face will get irritated and you WILL touch your mask. If you have any infectious agent on your hands, you are effectively smearing it on the mask. The final issue is the size of the virus compared to the pore size of the mask. Viruses are much smaller than we can really understand on an intuitive basis. If you can breath through a mask that just covers your nose and mouth, the pores are bigger than a virus or you would be laboring to get air through the mask. The seriously equipped health person is wearing a positive pressure breathing system that uses an air pump to drawn air through a very fine filter sometimes along with a germicidal lamp inside so that one can breathe normally and the air being vented around the mask is keeping contaminants from landing on the face.

                One of the downsides of hand sanitizer is that it also kills off the body's natural anti-microbials. Repeatedly soaking your hands in alcohol is not a good idea. If there is a specific reason for using it on occasion, that's ok, but as a prophylactic, soap and water and 30 secs are as effective and easier on the skin. Dried/chapped hands will be subject to cracking obviating your protective coating.

        2. myhandler

          Re: Maybe I have missed the point

          The thing is countries should have opened new factories to manufacture this stuff, PPE in particular. They haven't. (Yes I know there's a big lead time on injection moulding).

          However when every country needs the same stuff at the same time, in large quantities, there are going to be *lots* of problems.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Maybe I have missed the point

            What needs injection moulding?

            But yeah, in the vein of 'what will the world look like when this is over?', there's been much discussion of supply chains and manufacturing. Currently, efficiency and profitability rule, but not resiliency. Warehouses are pricey.

            Also manufacturing method. Injection molding is cheap if your making thousands. 3D printing is pricey and slow. However, if the injection mold is on other side of world, and the US keeps diverting shipments for itself, it's no good to you.

        3. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Maybe I have missed the point

          antigen testing

          I am beginning to get impatient for antigen testing too - it would be an easy way to begin easing restrictions - get tested, get the card stating "I'm done with it" and off you go.

          The problem, as I understand it, is that they haven't yet proved a working antigen test. Until that happens it can't begin to be manufactured. There's also the small matter that no-one's quite sure what level of immunity having had the virus actually affords you. It's possible that once you've had it, you're safe for five years. It's equally possible that half the people who have had the virus and display antibodies are still susceptible to re-infection. As far as I've been able to see, no-one knows yet. One thing that I think people are agreed on is that unlike the common cold (which you can catch time and time again), this isn't a fast-mutating virus, which is at least a sliver of good news.

          In the meantime, precautions.

          M.

          1. Russell Chapman Esq.

            Re: Maybe I have missed the point

            Antigen tests if you have the virus at the moment. Antibody testing is to see if you have developed immunity.

            The complication with antibody testing is that there is a window, where you have developed immunity but still have some of that virus in your system, which you can still spread, particularly as it is based in the lungs and breathed out.

            Nobody has sure data of how big that window is, at the moment. It could be days, or months, nobody knows for sure yet.

            So TL:DR. Even with an antibody test to say you have developed immunity, you might still be able to infect others for an as yet unknown period of time.

          2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: Maybe I have missed the point

            You've confusing antigen and antibody testing. "Antigen test" is a synonym for the PCR tests used to find parts of the virus RNA (they're testing for the presence of the antigen itself); antibody tests are serological tests for the presence of, well, antibodies.

            In the case of SARS and, it appears, SARS CoV2, the memory B cells lapse quickly and it's only the T cells that linger. That's making antibody testing harder. It's also possibly that contributing to instances of "reinfection". (Although, I'm still inclined to believe false negatives - PCR is pretty accurate but getting swabs with a sample can be hard. And T cells were sufficient to fight off SARS 17 years are initial infection.)

            1. hoola Bronze badge

              Re: Maybe I have missed the point

              In Singapore this approach using an App worked because it is a small, dense population that is used to doing what they are told.

              What is constantly missed in this quest for more testing is that it is a snapshot in time, The current test tells you if you are currently infected. Crucially what it cannot do is tell you have you have been infected and have recovered. The only way mass testing is really going to have an impact on the spread is if you go back and keep testing everyone that did not come back as positive. That is simply not possible and bluntly, increases the risk to those taking the tests and the public going to the places to be tested.

              The most useful test is for antibodies but that is more complicated and is taking time to develop. We also do not understand enough about the virus to know if, like flu it is going to mutate (or has mutated). There are reports or alleged mutations being detected however there is so much bull out there one has to take a lot of things with a pinch of salt.

              What I do suspect will happen is that once a vaccine is available countries like the US will require a certificate to say that you have been vaccinated before allowing entry into the country. Where this fails is that I believe a vaccine simple just prevents you from becoming ill, it does not stop you being a carrier however details like that will not worry the likes of Trump.

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Maybe I have missed the point

            "There's also the small matter that no-one's quite sure what level of immunity having had the virus actually affords you. "

            South Korea has a number of reinfections. If that's the case, those people weren't afforded any protection lasting more than a couple of weeks.

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Well said on all points.

      3. Iad Uroboros's Nemesis

        Re: Maybe I have missed the point

        I think you are both right, Russell and Martin. Proactive and retrospective notifications.

        Yes, due to insufficient testing, any app like this in the UK would be largely after-the-fact notification (aka Martin's post) to notify you to get your arse indoors and isolated. However, that is likely to have been way too late (days, weeks or even months at current testing rates) and you would already have probably infected others (and hence there would be a geometric cascade to others who had been in proximity). See a previous response I made on this topic about viral shedding being between 8 and 37 days (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30566-3/fulltext).

        It would be better to provide proactive notifications (aka Russell's post) so you (singular and plural) can avoid coming into contact with someone either already or likely to have been infected. Risk avoidance is always much better than mitigation. E.g. if someone has been in proximity of 20,000 people over the last few days, I would want to know and avoid them at all costs whether they have the virus or someone they were close to did actually/may have the virus. If everyone in proximity of such a person was notified they were about to be in the presence of someone like this then people can take a wider berth and/or shame that person into being more cautious. Of course, that can also backfire if such people then get assaulted.

      4. Someone Else Silver badge
        Happy

        @Martin an gof -- Re: Maybe I have missed the point

        +1 for use of the word fizzog. We here in the Colonies don't get to see that word much.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: @Martin an gof -- Maybe I have missed the point

          Don't use the word much myself but it's one of my dad's favourites and he's somewhat on my mind today having clicked another year closer to 90, and got very het-up when I proposed that when I did a bit of shopping for him I could bring the children to sit in the car and sing happy birthday. In the end I just dropped off the shopping and some cards and the children sang down the phone.

          He's not pleasant when he's depressed and my poor mum is taking the brunt of it. I hope they can survive another six or nine months of this...

          M.

          1. Russell Chapman Esq.

            Re: @Martin an gof -- Maybe I have missed the point

            Fizzog

            That brings back memories. Never use it myself but my grandmother and mother often used it.

    2. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Maybe I have missed the point

      As far as I can see the tracking App works best when there is widespread testing so that you can quickly identify and isolate contacts of those who have tested positive.

      If only, say, 10% of those infected are identified then there is the risk of the App giving you false confidence.

      We are also seeing a high percentage of people who are self isolating because they think that the have symptoms, but who are unable to be tested.

      If they then register as infected with the App then there is the potential for incorrect diagnosis to snowball.

      If they don't register with the App, then the whole thing seems pointless.

      TL;DR for this strategy to be effective it has to be closely coupled to accurate testing.

      1. Iad Uroboros's Nemesis
        Facepalm

        Re: Maybe I have missed the point

        "We are also seeing a high percentage of people who are self isolating because they think that the have symptoms, but who are unable to be tested."

        Yup, I am one of those. I am pretty sure I had it for 9 days as had many of the symptoms, compared them with the JoinZoe app and my medic friends...but I know I won't be able to get tested for months, possibly over a year, possibly never.

        FYI I have the constitution of an ox and have not had any illness for even more than 24 hours for about 40 years...and this one just kept returning (3 times in total).

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: a bit late in my book

      Isn't it a shame that infected people don't have a sign on their foreheads ?

      How exactly do you expect to have a before-the-fact warning if we don't have a tool that can trace infected people and warn those who have been in contact to get tested ?

      When we all have and use this app, people will be able to have a reasonable assumption that the people they deal with are not infected. And when something shows up, the people who were in contact get tested and that clears who's infected and who's not. The rest of us go on with our lives.

      This is not a game. There is no API we can call on to alert people to our infection status beforehand.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: a bit late in my book

        "When we all have and use this app, people will be able to have a reasonable assumption that the people they deal with are not infected"

        That's wrong, and it's also quite dangerous. This app is, as has been pointed out admirably, only a retroactive notification tool. It can let you know, at some point, whether it's possible you came into contact with an infected person. But the speed and hence the reliability of that depends on the speed and comprehensiveness of testing, and we know that those values aren't great right now.

        Meanwhile, if people also assume that, we will have quite the crisis indeed. If people think this app will protect them, catching people before they have a chance to be infectious, they will be more eager to engage in social interaction because the people they are in contact with must not be infected--they haven't been quarantined by the app people. This means more spreading and more pressure on testing infrastructure, which means less comprehensive tests, which means less reliable data from the app, which means more people interacting because none of these people have been quarantined by the app people, which means more spreading and more pressure on the test infrastructure.

        If people continued to follow instructions while using this, it could be a little helpful. But if there is any other person who comes to hold an opinion like the one quoted, it will be harmfully counterproductive.

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Maybe I have missed the point

      > If I'm going to use an app, I want it to tell me who to avoid, I don't want to know I have been in contact with an infected one after the fact.

      Most people are infected by people who are not yet showing symptons. The app is to tell you that you are at risk of infecting other people ( because you have been in contact with someone who has give in to develop symptoms / been tested) and so double down on your efforts at self isolating. So yeah, too late for you, but not too late for others you might make ill.

      Or, if you only respond to self interest: If other people use the app and act appropriately they will reduce the chance of infecting you.

      Most people with symptoms - light cough, headache, fever, will be at home resting - and so be easy to avoid. Selfish twats with a cough are also to be avoided.

  10. stiine Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Totally unnecessary, just watch the video that this article is describing...

    https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/03/27/cell-phone-tracking-analysis-shows-where-florida-springbreakers-and-new-yorkers

    never has an icon been more apt.....black helicopters, indeed.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I'm glad that you just woke up and realized what world we are living in. This is not news. It's been going on for a decade already.

      But hey, better late than never.

  11. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  12. Grikath
    Boffin

    Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

    The granularity of the system is several times larger than the actual direct infection radius of anyone actually infected. Even with bad reception you're talking 5 meter radius, running up to 10 meters. That's a lot of of area where people can be in, and be in the "watchlist". Especially over two weeks, the supposed incubation period of Covid/SARS2

    This means that the "alert bubble" is orders of magnitude wider than it needs to be. This also means that the spread of the alert/virtual infection in this system is several orders of magnitudes faster than the Real Thing™. In short, within a week or two everyone using this app will have been "infected". No difference from a total lockdown. This is "basic" math used in modelling, including epidemiology.

    So unless a Bluetooth solution also includes mitigation or selection it's practically useless. It must at least consider frequency of contact and proximity to avoid you being "tagged" because of a one-off "contact" two weeks ago. And a lot of other things to give at least a decent approximate of the chance you have indeed been in infectuous contact with someone who has developed Covid/SARS2.

    Else it's just a panic-spreader. Well before any issues over privacy, slippery slopes, and a very ..insidious.. introduction of mass surveillance in our "free" society.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

      Before getting your knickers in a twist, you need to realize that :

      1) there are intelligent people working on this

      2) they do not need a system which ends up finding that everyone is infected

      3) they need a system that determines the risk properly

      4) they are not looking to saturate yet another part of the medical infrastructure

      So calm down. I'm sure the people working on this have the intent to get something that points to actual risks needing care, not just some teenager's endless-loop-of-infection-style code.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        @Pascal Monett -- Re: Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

        5) Will have inevitable bugs/security holes/backdoors allowing for it to be hacked and misused by nefarious types (e.g. Tories, Republicans) wishing to control the populace via fear and loathing (two very powerful motivators, in case you haven't noticed).

    2. Iad Uroboros's Nemesis
      Boffin

      Re: Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

      "...Even with bad reception you're talking 5 meter radius, running up to 10 meters..."

      Although like every study at the moment, this one will probably be contested too but the 10m radius is probably about right...unless you have a cyclist whizzing around you somewhere:

      "Blocken suggests staying at least four to five metres behind others when walking in single file, 10 metres when running or cycling slowly, and 20 metres when cycling quickly"

      https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/article-joggers-need-to-be-even-farther-than-two-metres-when-going-past-you/

      1. John Sturdy

        Re: Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

        That study may not be all that credible: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferkastenmd/posts/120574959595451

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

        If a 3rd party Find My Headphones app is able to determine the strength of a Bluetooth signal (as a proxy for distance) then I'm confident that Apple and Google can.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Bluetooth (alone) won't work.

          I've always been slightly mystified by the rash of recent pairing protocols for smart things and health trackers, where you have to hold the phone close to the device, like under 6 inches away, to pair, then suddenly it works from 30 feet away or more over Bluetooth. I know that the devices are also passing WiFi details sometimes, depending on their purpose, but it's still slightly perplexing that this works. I mean, it's almost harking back to the days of having line-of-sight for an IR beamer.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dependencies

    1. testing needs to be available

    a. results without false negatives or all else fails (any infected person not found by the test upsets the system)

    2. people need to get tested

    a. capacity needs to be available

    b. results need to be available quick (risk of infection between test and test-result)

    3. tested people need to signal they've tested positive

    a. impossible to force people to do so though 80% will probably oblige

    b. the API does not allow for much here, the only Diagnosis_key that could be sent is the key active in the last 15 mins

    4. all people need to use detection app

    a. improbable, people without smartphone, no space on device, incompatible device

    5. all people need to carry a switched phone with them at all times

    a. improbable, batteries run empty, phones crash

    b. and then, since when is a phone someone’s identifier, what’s to stop an infected person to leave their phone at home or take another phone with BLE which has not been signaled as being infected

    Issues

    1. No proper test yet widely available and/or in place. If any single person in your proximity is tested, the test does not designate them as positive. People in their vicinity are not notified and the infected person keeps infecting people until they become symptomatic.

    a. The system creates a false sense of safety.

    2. People cannot be forced to signal they’ve tested positive, non-dictatorial regimes cannot force citizens to notify. The setup of the GApple API does not grant a regime the ability to designate someone properly, only the proximity_identifier active the last 15mins can be sent. The only people in the vicinity of that identifier would be the people taking the test

    3. Anyone can use someone else’s phone. The concept of a burner phone gets a whole new dimension here.

    Solution

    1. Anyone with even mild symptoms should self-isolate and get tested

    2. We will only be safe once a vaccine has been approved and administered to 40% of the world’s population

  14. anothercynic Silver badge

    The concept is great but...

    ... It depends on other things to be done too.

    Take South Korea. South Korea has done (and continues to do) massive amounts of testing. Only if you test the population will you be able to define whether someone's been infectious and needs to release their handset data. Given that our glorious government has a) not tested enough, b) claims to but is failing to test in massive quantities, and c) cannot be trusted to do massive testing, the concept will fail at this point.

    Also, testing is not foolproof. Biozek's test claims 85-100% sensitivity and 96-98% specificity for the IgM and IgG antibodies. Other tests have 90% sensitivity and specificity. So, this means that either way, if you test positive, there is a 10-15% chance that you're actually *not* positive (which in the grand scheme of things is generally ok), and more importantly/worryingly, vice versa, a negative test still gives you a 10-15% chance of actually carrying infection while you believe you're not infected.

    A multi-protocol approach is the methology that has to be implemented for this all to work appropriately.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The concept is great but...

      South Korea has done (and continues to do) massive amounts of testing.

      Anyone can do testing, but is it reliable? Look at the test kits being sold from China, which have 40-60% false results, but are available online & being snapped up by foolish, desperate people. That sort of testing is worse than none at all.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: The concept is great but...

        I don't believe that South Korea was using cheap kits from China.

        In the UK, ministers said that reagents for making kits aren't available. The head of the trade body representing the chemical industry said that this was news to them (minister talking bollocks)

  15. Brangdon Bronze badge

    "their phone will release the identifiers of all the other devices"

    "If someone is then diagnosed as having COVID-19 they can self-declare that fact and their phone will release the identifiers of all the other devices that they were close to over the past 14 days."

    That's not how it works. Instead, the phone uploads its own identifiers, that is, 14 of them, one for each day. These are added to a database. Every day, each phone downloads the database, turns each daily ID into a set of 15-minute IDs, and then compares that with the list of IDs that that phone has been in contact with. The upshot is that your list of contacts never leaves your phone.

    1. Yorick

      Re: "their phone will release the identifiers of all the other devices"

      Any word yet on how apps might handle “self-reporting”? Absent some kind of “verified test”, I worry about people going trololol and hitting that poz button.

      One way might be to have, say, an NHS app, with a QR code on your test result. The app scans the code, verifies it was signed with an NHS key, and prompts the user whether they’d like to notify others they have been in contact with.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: "their phone will release the identifiers of all the other devices"

      That's a logical way to do it. That way has two problems though:

      1. Downloading the full world-wide database could take a while and use too much bandwidth, whereas segmenting it into regions could be flaky.

      2. If phones don't upload all the identifiers they've seen, then there won't be a reason for individual phones to frequently ping the server with their own so the server can check for them. If that doesn't happen, using the information for tracking purposes won't work, the advertisers won't pay for the intel on the users, and the NSA and its friends will have a bunch of meaningless numbers instead of a nice graph.

  16. Cuddles Silver badge

    "Your phone constantly broadcasts a Bluetooth identifier that allows others nearby to see it and connect to it."

    No it doesn't. Your phone only broadcasts a Bluetooth identifier when Bluetooth is actually turned on. Why would you leave an insecure, battery-draining radio broadcast running when you're not using it? And given that it only takes a couple of seconds to turn it on if you need it, there's essentially zero added convenience from leaving it running all the time. No wonder people are always complaining about phone battery life if they just happily leave everything draining it all the time for absolutely no reason (see also GPS).

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Because my hearing aids are controlled by bluetooth, so it makes sense to have it on, and them always connected.

      Before I had the hearing aids I used to deliberately enable bluetooth for specific purposes, and leave it off otherwise.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        I'm intrigued who down voted me, and why?

        Do they not think that hearing aids are important?

    2. T. F. M. Reader

      @Cuddles: agreed. I only switch Bluetooth and GPS on when I am in my car, GPS only if I really need navigation to a place I am not familiar with and don't rely on just reading street signs. Of course, when I am in my car I am isolated from the rest of the world and thus pretty safe, epidemiologically.

      Having said that, I suppose that I am "different"... And so are you... ;-)

    3. Roopee
      Headmaster

      Re battery-draining radio broadcast

      I leave BT on all the time, and have done for years with my current iPhone SE and my previous HTC One S, simply so that I can use it hands-free in my car without any messing. I've tested both phones to see how much difference it makes to the battery life and the answer is not a lot, in fact no noticeable difference at all, unlike GPS and (on the HTC only), WiFi. If I don't make any calls or use the phone for anything else during the day, but leave BT on, the iPhone uses <10% of its battery.

      I used the HTC for 6 years and its battery was still fine for a heavy day's use when I reluctantly abandoned it in favour of a 'new-fangled' phone with 4G mobile and 5GHz WiFi so I suspect that if BT flattens your battery with a day's use, it's probably time you bought a new battery or a better phone!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Re battery-draining radio broadcast

        My iPhoneSE turns Bluetooth back on at the start of every day anyway. I'd have to hammer it home that I need it off in order for it to stay off. It's gone from a stance of "turn it on for specific purposes but otherwise it's off" to "You can turn it off for specific purposes, but otherwise it's turned on".

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Bluetooth doesn't use much energy, especially the newer Bluetooth Low Energy standard which is named in Apple and Google's whitepaper.

      If your Bluetooth is using anything like the amount of power that GPS does, you've got something wrong with your phone.

  17. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    State surveillance

    Sure, this time the reason for the surveillance might be beneficial and noble. But on past experience, it will also be used for quite different purposes and will not stop once the pandemic has passed. If you were sat next to a person suspected of a serious offence, expect to be pulled in for questioning - and maybe implicated.

    Remember when police were not permitted to keep DNA samples from people arrested but later released without charge? But they did, and suffered no punishments. Eventually the law was simply changed to allow the police to keep all DNA samples collected even from people who were later found to be completely innocent. Once something this useful to the state is adopted, the state will not relinquish it just because the original stated purpose no longer applies. Once installed, the application can be made difficult to remove - and even if not, people will forget they have it running. If popular, phones will be sold with the application loaded by default.

    Never, ever assume that your government is (or will always be) benign and have only the best intentions toward all its citizens. Nazi Germany was a developed democratic country - think what it would have been able to do with this technology.

    1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

      Re: State surveillance

      Never forget Hitler was elected - and *he* wasn't guilty of promising one thing and doing something completely different (he was, without question, an evil, horrible little man - but at least he kept his manifesto promises. What does that say about most politicians these days?)

      All these apps can do is tell you that you were in the same area as someone who has tested positive for - in this case - Covid 19. It cannot tell you if you are infected, it cannot tell you if you are carrying the virus - if you haven't been tested and are not showing symptoms, it can't tell you if you're the one gave it to the other person in the first place!

      What it does do is give the app provider an unprecedented level of tracking data previously impossible outside of something like Orwell's 1984; while many people are happy to carry trackers - sorry, cellphones - all the time and don't care about who is tracking them all the time, some people don't believe any government at any time should be allowed to intrude so far into the private lives of "their" citizens.

      You can't put that giant mushroom cloud back into the shiny uranium sphere - let the governments impose this now and there's no going back.

    2. The Central Scrutinizer

      Re: State surveillance

      Just wait till countries in the so called first world try to force people to install a tracking app. You can't leave home without it, otherwise you get arrested or fined. Then the fun will really start.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: State surveillance

        Technology will solve nothing - the whole current mess exists because we're trusting "technology" more than basic health precautions - and you can't blame people for that when for so many the only choice is to risk catching the virus or else starve to death. Most people recover from the virus infection but nobody has every recovered from starving to death.

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: State surveillance

        "

        Just wait till countries in the so called first world try to force people to install a tracking app.

        "

        But ... it will be for your own good! Think of the children! (Unless you're a paedophile of course, in which case thinking of children is illegal).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how do google and apple install these new APIs?

    There's lots of talk about Google and Apple making new APIs that apps can be built on. What I don't understand is how these APIs will be installed? If I have a newish iPhone, yes, Apple will send an update and the API will be installed. But if I have an older iPhone they won't because they don't update them. If I have an Android phone, then as I understand it Google doesn't send updates. They give them to phone manufacturers who are then known more for their lack of updates than their promptness. So how do these new APIs actually get installed on all, or even most, phones?

    1. Graham 32

      Re: how do google and apple install these new APIs?

      I think Apple's phones get updates for a quite a long time, several years, so if it covers more then 60% of the userbase it will be enough. For Android I assume it'll be an update to the Google Play Services app rather than the core operating system.

      1. Yorick

        Re: how do google and apple install these new APIs?

        Apple is reportedly thinking on how they might get this to Max iThings. I parse that as “we are exploring options to release an IOS <oldver> update for the 20% of phones out there that are not on <currentver>”.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: how do google and apple install these new APIs?

      iOS updates come for a lot longer than android updates do.

      Additionally, even when a device can't deal with the latest iOS version, it can still get updates - they just push an update of an older version, it's really very easy.

      The difficulty will be android, where there is no central update policy.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: how do google and apple install these new APIs?

        As above, in Android it's pushed out out as Google Play Services.

        Play services was Google's response to hardware vendors who didn't release updates. It took various bits of Android into an App that Google can update

  19. Symon Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    What's to stop...

    ...some twat going on a packed commuter train with their Bluetooth app., and then falsely declaring themselves positive, just 'for a laugh'?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's to stop...

      Except you shouldn't be in a packed commuter train. You should be at home, not making non-essential journeys.

      That said, doing this on a bus full of essential workers, when you're an essential worker, makes you monumentally stupid.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's to stop...

        That said, doing this on a bus full of essential workers, when you're an essential worker, makes you monumentally stupid.

        And so you think it won't happen?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's to stop...

          Didn't say that... There's always one tool who thinks it's funny.

      2. Josco

        Re: What's to stop...

        ...makes you monumentally stupid...

        Lucky there aren't many people like that around!

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: What's to stop...

      Should this app get used, there is only one viable solution to this. In order to start alerts, a key associated with a testing facility must be used to confirm that the device's proclamation of a positive test result is trustworthy. That would work reasonably well for this one case, but it doesn't fix any of the other major problems that exist.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: What's to stop...

      The person doesn't even have to be on the train themselves. A Raspberry Pi, a battery and a little code plus some double sided tape would do the trick.

      The ultimate security device. Deploy some of these devices in places you want to keep people out of and if they also have a phone with an app telling them they are nearing somebody infected, they bugger off in the other direction.

  20. kfq215

    It simply won't work. If you receive a notification that you came within a few metres of someone who might have had symptoms of the virus, what are you going to do then? Hancock says you can 'act accordingly'. What does 'act accordingly' actually mean? You may wish to be tested. But you can't, because testing in the UK is not available to the general public.

    Are you (and your entire household?) going to self-isolate for 14 days on the basis of a phone notification, when you have zero symptoms?

    95% would not do so. When citizens get more than a couple of such notifications, they will just ignore them completely.

    The three planks to containing the virus and saving lives are: strategic policy informed by mass-testing, both for infection and antibody presence: official encouragement of face-coverings in any social situation of close physical proximity. And the use of repurposed drugs (properly prescribed) in clinics and hospitals.

    Patients critically ill from Cytokine Release Syndrome (which may show as ARD or pneumonitis) can be saved by the use of the anti-IL6 agent Tocilizumab.

    The UK does not allow physicians to so prescribe.

    (The SITC already urges for the use of anti-IL6 in critical cases)

    The UK is also one of the last European countries still prohibiting the use of Chloroquine / Hydroxychloroquine, and there is now sufficient evidence that it in many cases, it prevents symptom escalation, and speeds virus clearance.

    The UK has failed on all three counts.Very low testing rates. No testing available to the mass of the population.

    The BBC puts out 'reality check' articles and then states that the general public shouldn't bother with masks!

    Contrast that with many countries across the world, where the wearing of masks in public is the routine expectation.

    And the countries with the lowest death rates are those that are actively using repurposed drugs.

    S. Korea is the shining example on all three counts.

    Thus we see a terrible cases to death ratio in the UK currently in the region of 12%.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The UK is also one of the last European countries still prohibiting the use of Chloroquine / Hydroxychloroquine, and there is now sufficient evidence that it in many cases, it prevents symptom escalation, and speeds virus clearance.

      That is simply not true.

      European medical regulators still ban the use of chloroquine to treat COVID-19 in anything except clinical trials, only France is permitting its prescription in limited cases.

  21. myhandler

    What's inexplicable about a Chinese user's phone suddenly going Red in the middle of the day when at work?

    Nothing.

    Someone else just got marked infected, the coordinate records show the two had been in close proximity.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      That assumes that when they said inexplicable, they meant "the perfectly logical way everyone expects". Maybe, when they said inexplicable, they meant inexplicable in the sense of nobody really knows why the icon changed but it shouldn't have. This app got set up really fast and rolled out to a billion devices--you have to expect that there will be bugs when that happens, including incorrect reports or syncing issues or system malfunctions. It happens with things much simpler than this.

  22. ridley

    It's in the waves

    Don'f fall for it people, don't you know the disease is in the waves? Just turn it off!

    /s

  23. Persona Silver badge

    Privacy?

    I'm unusual on this forum for not caring that much about my privacy. I am however concerned about the Google/Apple API that exposes who I have been in proximity to, when I was with them and how often I'm with them. This is information that allow personal interconnections to be mapped far more efficiently than currently. In more normal times it will allow them (Google and Apple) to know who you live with, who you work with, who you travel with and who you spend your leisure time with. I will probably be turning off my Bluetooth.

  24. Captain Hogwash

    Re: ...and should you download one to help?

    This question, posed by the headline, was not answered by the article.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: ...and should you download one to help?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge%27s_law_of_headlines

      HTH

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Handlebars

    can this work for health workers?

    My other half spends whole shifts in ppe around covid patients, and they have their phones on. Is there a way to differentiate from her being in the supermarket with someone who later declares their infection?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    5G = COVID-19

    Would it work on a 5G phone, since 5G is what's causing COVID-19? :D :D :D

  28. markl66

    Having worked in operating theatre, I use my knowledge of infection control to leave my phone at home. Not only will it likely get contaminated outside, but it's automatic to put it to one's face on incoming call. We are meant to be in lockdown, so should not be walking more than 2km from home, at least here in Ireland. Can we surely go 2km without the need for our phone?

  29. Smndnm

    Sales pitch

    All I hear is a sales pitch “it’s for your own good’. What I see is a function to be baked into the OS of the phone, and the public good trigger will be enacted by emergency legislation in parliament to allow the overt management of the herd “for their own good”. But please, entertain yourselves with dramatic stories about the real issue of phone battery life.... Meanwhile, another act of parliament will not be required to turn the system off, the proximity data will continue to be collected and used. This is not in our long term interests as free thinking citizens. If we, as a society want to fix the social distancing and subsequent contagion problems associated with pathogens, I suggest we limit breeding for a generation OR make more effective choices at the next election and get some accountable and representative governance in our countries. This will end badly.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Sales pitch

      Yes - it is time to think about what long-term price the country is willing to pay to avoid a relatively few deaths from Covid-19. Constant tracking is one price, as is the number of deaths and morbidities caused by the response to the virus over the next two generations - deaths of poverty, deaths of despair, deaths of violence. Another is the inevitable social breakdown from people being ordered to not trust anyone else. This is is the biggest divide-and-conquer attempt in history, and it will not end well - either people will go along with it and society will become a memory, or they won't, and the backlash will change things forever. There is more to this than a scoreboard of deaths that pales into insignificance against other causes.

  30. Morten Bjoernsvik

    Do we need an app?

    Do not google and apple already have all this data, they just need to increase sampling rate and then crunch out for each phone.

    I can find my positions pretty good with https://www.google.com/maps/timeline, Apple probably have the same. let them identify the infected and then crunch numbers to find persons who have been in close range.

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. YetAnotherJoeBlow

    False sence of security.

    Once an app is made, I will bet money it has the normal analytics and crashlytics SDKs in the phone as well. It would be trivial to uniquely identify all the Bluetooth tags.

  33. Adehyz

    Infectious period

    You say the app will track anyone you've been in contact with for the fourteen days prior to developing symptoms. This should read two days, since it is only accepted that your may be contagious for 48hrs prior to developing symptoms

    You are confusing this with the incubation period, the length of time between infection and developing symptoms

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Infectious period

      No, the article is correct in that a recent report1 by scientists at the University of Auckland (NZ) that showed that the IgG and IgM antibodies only become detectable days after *symptoms* start showing, but that you may be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus (and continue to infect people) for several days *after* the day of infection and *before* becoming symptomatic. The appropriate graph's accompanying notes do point out that people have different responses to infection and as such may develop symptoms quicker or slower (which is why the incubation period is given as 1-14 days with a median of 5). Given a median of 5 (before onset of symptoms), plus at least 48 hours before that, gives you 7 days, but in some cases (for the extreme right of the curve), 14 days of backtracking makes sense. I'd rather tell too many people they should get tested (or go into isolation) than too few and cause another infection bloom, if you follow my meaning.

      1 COVID-19-Testing-Landscape-Final.pdf (26-29 March)

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Infectious period

        > they should get tested

        Didn't know we can do that...

  34. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

    I wonder how many people who couple months ago complained about privacy and criticised the government for experiments with face recognition are now ardent supporters of idea to give all these data to the government and companies like Apple or Google, just because of the virus?

    This is exactly how fascism starts - just give it good enough excuse.

  35. Not previously required

    Two devices

    If your phone is already connected to a device - such as headphones - does it still promiscuously sniff for other connections all the time?

    And I still worry about the central server in all this.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Two devices

      yes. Your headphones are an "audio" device, but you could also pair up with an "input" device like a keyboard and mouse. I can have my headset on and the phone receiving data from the unit in my OBD port on the car.

  36. Pat Att

    Not for me thanks.

    Any system whereby the UK government can access my data from such an app is a non-starter. I have zero trust in them, given their performance over the last four years or so.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Not for me thanks.

      Only four years! You must be very forgiving :-)

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tracking methods in different countries

    Hi, first thank you for great article from "all around the world". I would appreciate much bigger elaboration and possibly "next episode".

    In Czech Republic are used mobile operators (for BTS triangulation for client devices) and banks (merchant location for card payments).

    - For BTS triangulation the precision is lower(not sure how accurate it is), but it is compatible with any phone without installed app.

    - POS merchant location is very precise and comfortable, because "contactless" payments are recommended in media - avoiding people contact, but silently helping track people.

    - The tracking history is 5 days.

    - In addition to use location for tracking is required full consent from the person. Without it ladies go offline and ask you "Where have you been yesterday?".

    - In Slovakia is consent not required. They take tracking data as they want.

    How about some questionnaire about which technologies are used around the world?

  38. maker

    Always suspeced and now confirmed Register posters are unrepresentative. Oh no, I'm one.

  39. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Tracking patient zero

    There is no doubt that tracking everybody all of the time would make finding a "patient zero" very easy to do. All everybody has to agree to is a complete loss of privacy. At this point, the vectors are so numerous that it's a lost cause other than find a particular worker in a factory is responsible for an outbreak in many of the other employees. Lawsuit against that employee anybody?

    The premise behind tracking P0 is to find the source. Covid-19's source is down to a pretty small area and the leading suspect is the "wet" markets and bush meat. The runner up (or leader in some people's eyes) is the bio research lab. From there, tracking cases over time is as easy as looking at major air travel routes. From the airline hubs, the spread branches out via trains, autos and other forms of transportation. The last areas that are seeing infections are way off the beaten travel corridors unless somebody(s) in that area returned from a trip with the virus.

    I don't see how tracking is going to do any good. I do see how it can do a lot of bad.

  40. LostInTime

    How is a Bluetooth ID converted into a Contact (for wifi/telephone)

    Something I can't find an explanation of.

    How, exactly (but in laymans language) does the app contact the other phones.

    Humor me here:

    So, I walked passed some one a few days ago, and they collected my Bluetooth ID, and I collected theirs.

    They now tell the app they have Covid.

    It has a list of Bluetooth IDs that it collected for the last few days, but how does this contact me?

    It can't be by Bluetooth.

    What is the link between the Bluetooth ID and me, my wireless or phone connection?

    I accept this may be obvious or a dumb question, but, if you don't ask...........................

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