back to article Linux Foundation starts new group to build pandemic-popping software

The Linux Foundation has announced a new Public Health initiative (LFPH) that “builds, secures, and sustains open source software to help public health authorities (PHAs) combat COVID-19 and future epidemics.” The new group has seven “Premier members” - Cisco, doc.ai, Geometer, IBM, NearForm, Tencent, and VMware – and has …

  1. anothercynic Silver badge

    Not invented here syndrome?

    Germany has open-sourced its app at https://github.com/corona-warn-app, so why is the Linux Foundation reinventing the wheel?

    1. randon8154

      Re: Not invented here syndrome?

      "so why is the Linux Microsoft Foundation reinventing the wheel?"

      Fixed for u

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

        Re: Not invented here syndrome?

        Erm, no. Link to members of the Linux Foundation. Microsoft is a member, but tons of other entities are as well.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Not licensed here syndrome?

      Apache 2 license rather than GPL might have something to do with it.

    3. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Not invented here syndrome?

      Germany has open-sourced its app at https://github.com/corona-warn-app, so why is the Linux Foundation reinventing the wheel?

      My guess is that it is an outstanding commercial opportunity. The basic software might be free and open source, but there is oodles of money to be made from governments by big players out of consultancy, add-ons and service provision around it. After all, most public health authorities have been given an unlimited budget to spend, spend, spend.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It'll be a systemd module won't it?

    Isn't everything now.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: It'll be a systemd module won't it?

      Come on, you can do better: systemd-trump-brexit-daemon

      I'll try to take the down-votes with grace, thanks very much.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        GrumpenKraut

        Hopefully this will kill the inevitable Trump bashing on just about any El Reg discussion (Godwin's Law)

        Nazis

  3. Adair Silver badge

    Correct me if I am wrong

    but some time ago it seemed to me that he LF transmogrified from being an essentially benign organisation providing a useful 'front door' for organisations, and anyone, wanting to get to grips with 'Linux' and the concepts behind the label, into something much more aggressively there to simply serve corporate interests and itself.

    Am I wrong?

    1. Kristian Walsh

      Re: Correct me if I am wrong

      And as far as I can see, as a Node.js project, the NearForm app doesn't even link against Linux, so I don't see why they're getting involved with it. Apart from some virtue-signalling, I guess...

    2. Phil Koenig

      Re: Correct me if I am wrong

      Given all the money in recent years that has been thrown at Linux players, I'd say you are not wrong.

      Linux has been corporate-mainstreamed, with all the usual trappings.

  4. thames
    Unhappy

    Corona Washing

    The whole idea is of Bluetooth tracking is of questionable utility. It also may be detrimental if it causes some people to be less cautious about avoiding the virus in the first place as they think they will get a warning if they are exposed (not that the warning will do them any good personally).

    Simply giving people an automatic log of approximately where they've been and when would be more useful to both them and the public health authorities. This would replace the paper and pencil logs which people are supposed to be using (you are keeping a log, right?) with a system that works without having to do anything.

    The Apple/Google system has a massive hole in it from a public health perspective in that by design it does nothing to help with the biggest thing that the public health authorities need, which is to help identify high risk locations or activities so they can fine tune health regulations to prevent people from getting infected in the first place. This sort of thing is the bedrock of public health and yet the Apple/Google approach does nothing to help with it at all.

    The current approach is more about giving people a warm feeling about the lifestyle product they have spent so much money on than it is about public health.

    1. Kristian Walsh

      Re: Corona Washing

      These apps are not a replacement for contact tracing.

      The idea of determining "dangerous areas" is a red-herring, because it's not places that transmit the disease, but people and their actions: standing in a hall is not dangerous, but attending a choir practice at that hall is. The idea that there can be "red" and "green" zones actually increases the spread of disease: crowds won't go home when a popular area is marked "unsafe", they just congregate - at the same density - in a "safe" area... which will become unsafe simply by hosting so many people in close proximity. It's a kind of epidemiological whack-a-mole, which can end up increasing the geographical spread of the illness.

      The app's function is simple: alert people when they have been in contact with someone who has self-reported symptoms. At that point, the person contacted can restrict their own movements to avoid any further spread of the disease - this is very important if the contact has any kind of job where daily contact with many people would make them a multiplier of the infection (not really a factor for most Reg readers, I grant you...).

      It's only one part of a set of tools for managing the outbreak. The other parts - personal hygiene, widespread testing, contact tracing, physical distancing - don't become irrelevant just because your phone's got an app.

      1. thames

        Re: Corona Washing

        There are high risk and low risk places associated with particular activities. This is the fundamental basis of the public health regulations which decide what sort of businesses can open and which cannot. For example where I am, restaurants are open (with precautions), while pubs are not.

        There have also been outbreaks in places such as meat processing plants which were not anticipated. They were found by observing the fact that a large proportion of the people in certain towns either worked at the location or lived in the same house as someone who did. Once the locations were identified, they were closed down until improved health precautions could be implemented.

        There are also issues with compliance with public health orders. There are simply not enough inspectors to go around and inspect every single business to see if they are adequately complying with the regulations. The first warning the authorities will have of these problems is when they find that a lot of cases are associated with a particular location. You know, just like how COVID-19 was discovered in the first place by noting how so many atypical pneumonias were associated with the Wuhan market?

        You also don't have to go anywhere near someone to be a "contact". You just need to come into contact with something they came into contact with, and then transfer the contamination to yourself. There is no need for the two of you to be in the same place at the same time. For example there was a recent fire at a shipyard in the US where a number of the firefighters became infected by cross contamination through equipment, not by coming into proximity with each other.

        There was an incident in 19th century London which is considered to be one of the foundations of modern public health. There was a cholera outbreak, but nobody could find the source. One of the investigators however had the idea of plotting all of the known cases on a map. They nearly all clustered around one public well. It turned out the well was contaminated. He then removed the pump handle and the outbreak came to a stop.

        This sort of think is absolutely essential if we are going to get through the next year before a vaccine can be rolled out to the population in general.

        1. NATTtrash Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Corona Washing

          There was an incident in 19th century London which is considered to be one of the foundations of modern public health.

          You're correct, that would be John Snow, seen by many as the father of modern epidemiology. He wasn't "the first" however, although that statement also is heavily dependant on the fact that we are not that smart that long as a species that we know you need a causal relation for all this (exposure to buggy makes you sick).

          A couple of centuries before Snow there was a gentleman called Girolamo Fracastoro, a professor at the University of Padua, who wrote a book called "De contagione et contagiosis morbis". In it he concluded that "something" was passed on from one human to another, which was making them sick. On that, he concluded that (personal) hygiene was a very important variable in this whole equation. Funny thing is that some 5 centuries later, some still seem to think it's OK to sneeze "into the wild", and you can still find more buggies, including the poo E. coli one, on keyboards and that nice order screen at MacDonalds than on toilet seats...

  5. HildyJ Silver badge
    WTF?

    Why?

    Contract tracing software hasn't been shown to be effective. It has been shown to have significant privacy issues. Do we really need the Linux Foundation tangled up in this?

    1. thames

      Re: Why?

      The issue isn't that contact tracing software can't be useful at all. The issue is whether Bluetooth proximity detection has much relevance to a COVID-19 pandemic.

      The concept was created in the early days of the pandemic when very little was known about the virus, and it's doubtful that it's of much use given what we know now.

      It's like a lot of big software projects. The issue is not so much whether the implementation meets the specification, it's whether the specification had much relevance to how things actually worked. In this case the specification was written before much was really known about COVID-19, but the project managers (Apple/Google) just sit there with their hands over their ears saying "I can't hear you" when anyone points out the growing gap between early theory and present reality.

  6. Phil Koenig

    The right tool for the job?

    "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

    Give technocrats a problem, and they will propose a technology "solution" for the problem.

    I suspect old-fashioned contact tracing is at least as efficacious, and I don't have to worry about incompetent/cavalier developers that make stuff that violates my privacy far more than necessary to accomplish the job. (Eg, anything with links to any Google framework is already highly suspect.)

    1. NATTtrash Silver badge

      Re: The right tool for the job?

      I suspect old-fashioned contact tracing is at least as efficacious

      I would even dare to say it's the main success factor.

      This whole app hyperventilation is in line perfectly with what we've seen before with other (non-related) issues: it's easy and convenient for politicians to package and communicate something as a simple, all solving solution for something. "No worries, we can solve this with technology!".

      Thing however is that the tech is just another, albeit more sophisticated tool, but never a final solution. So yes, maybe tracing apps help with the work of containing infections. But you don't have to be a rocket scientist to realise you can't push it out and then lean back because you established world peace.

      But that's exactly what "those speaking to the people" seem to do now: simple message, KISS principle, not my problem any more cause I solved it ("Look, we made ##### billion available!") and now let the plebs clean it up. Meanwhile we already see people coming in who "relapsed" to pre-February behaviour, and think they are "safe because I installed the app"...

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The right tool for the job?

      "I don't have to worry about incompetent/cavalier developers that make stuff that violates my privacy far more than necessary to accomplish the job."

      Of course not. HMG and their special advisers are competent at violating your privacy.

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