Category Archives: Smart Phones

Contact tracing apps do not track surface or air contacts across time | Coldstreams Business and Tech

Re-running this post with a few minor updates. Contact tracing apps do not track surface or air contacts across time | Coldstreams Business and Tech

Bluetooth-based contact tracing apps are incapable of detecting close contacts across time.

Example: Some sits on a bus or at a coffee shop seat, coughs, and then leaves, 30-60 seconds later a new person takes that seat, has direct contact with the seat, plus inhales the aerosolized viral particles and droplets expelled by the person who coughed. BLE-based phone apps are 100% incapable of detecting this close contact.

Covid-19 tracing apps: UK’s tracking app continues to be a mess

3 days after official launch the UK’s contact tracing app is a mess:

  • Users who report symptoms but then get a negative test result still must isolate because there is no way to report a negative test result.
  • About one-third of the positive test results – any done at NHS basically – cannot be reported so that one’s contacts cannot then be alerted.
  • The app logs when you enter a venue – but not when you leave. Thus, you stop by a pub at 8 pm and leave at 8:15 pm. Some who then enters at 9 pm subsequently tests positive – so you are told you were in contact. This would be a “false contact”.

For reasons outlined months ago, I do not believe smart phone contact tracing will prove particularly useful. It has been a virtue signaling endeavor from the tech industry, with up to a 45% false positive rate.

Here’s the summary of the problems, quoted from a UK web site named “Lockdown skeptics”.

It only took three days for the NHS COVID-19 app to acquire a litany of problems.

Users cannot report negative test results because the app asks for a result code and negative tests don’t have a code. If you reported symptoms to the app when booking that test then your self isolation counter continues to count, even though you have a negative test.

How about positive tests? According to the @NHSCOVID19app twitter account responding to complaints: “If your test took place in a Public Health England lab or NHS hospital, or as part of national surveillance testing conducted by the Office for National Statistics, test results cannot currently be linked with the app whether they’re positive or negative.” This shouldn’t be a surprise to the team building the app as they told us about it in their own documentation. But as this tweet from an incredulous user points out: “So if I get symptoms, and as an NHS nurse, get a test through work (because that’s the only way you can get a test these days), then if I am positive the app will not automatically alert my contacts? Same for a patient with a positive test?” That’s right, if you have your test done in an NHS hospital you cannot tell the NHS app about it.

The ludicrous levels of optimism around this app are evident in the twitter stream: “For every 1 to 2 people who download the app, an infection could be prevented.” Really? Could we see “the science” behind that please?

Meanwhile the venue check-in function doesn’t have a way of telling it when you leave a venue. That’s by design apparently: “You do not need to check out of a venue. Your phone will register when you check into somewhere new, and it will automatically check you out of your last venue at midnight.” So if I visit a venue for a few minutes at 9pm, then go home, and someone who later tests positive visits that venue at 10pm, I will be alerted and asked to isolate. No prizes for seeing the problem with that.Presumably this level of incompetence is all part of the new normal?

Source: Latest News – Lockdown Sceptics

California to ban sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035 

California will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars to combat climate change starting in 2035, a move that could help reshape the nation’s automobile market and its output of greenhouse gases.

Source: California to ban sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035 under Newsom order –

The State that is currently unable to provide sufficient electricity to its people, will require that all new vehicles sold after 2035 be – basically – electric. Will be interesting to see how they solve the infrastructure challenge in just 14+ years. The State is presently building just half of a high speed rail system over a period of 25 years.

Related: I do not understand the full concept of Executive Orders. The report notes this mandate is done via Executive Order in order to bypass the Legislature and public input. That is not a democracy in action – that is an authoritarian and undemocratic government.

Separately, the SF Bay area Metropolitan Transportation Commission has voted to mandate that 60% of all workers must work from home – with exemptions for work that cannot be done from home.

Issues have been raised as to how this creates social isolation, difficulties for many people who do not have homes suitable for work, and wipes out large numbers of businesses and jobs that support workers downtown. It also treats those who already walk or take public transport to work the same as everyone else – they too would be required to work at home.

Continue reading California to ban sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035 

Public health does not understand math

Proximity technology is controversial, particularly among some Americans who are unwilling to share personal data for privacy reasons and skeptical of the big tech companies offering the service. But it’s been embraced in some places, including Scotland, where a new app was reportedly downloaded 600,000 times.

Source: Your phone could determine if you’ve been exposed to coronavirus. Oregon’s ready to embrace the tech –

600,000 sounds impressive based on intuition (everything in public health seems to be based on intuition).

The population of Scotland is estimated as 5.5 million.

600k of 5.5 million is 10.9% of the population.

If we assume everyone has a compatible smart phone (which is a false assumption), then the probability that an individual has the app is 10.9%.

The probability that two people have the app is 10.9% x 10.9% or 1%. It takes two to have a detection.

Continue reading Public health does not understand math

Apple and Google installing contact tracing feature on all phones over next few weeks

Apple and Google, which built APIs for apps to use to do contact tracing have switched plans – rather than rely on third party apps to implement the feature, both companies will roll out contact tracing apps to all phones over the next few weeks (except possibly slightly older phones which seem to rarely get any updates).

Supposedly you will be able to opt out.

Source: Apple, Google: Contact tracing to become standard smartphone feature

As I have described extensively on this blog, these apps will have a high false positive and false negative rate due to fundamental limitations of the technology. Additionally, these apps are unable to detect contacts across time. Example – someone with (unknown) Covid-19 sits outside at Starbucks, coughs on the table once, then leaves. You then come along and sit in that seat and your hands touch the table. The app cannot detect this simple scenario. (Or replace the table with a bus or train seat…) Similarly, someone sits on the opposite side of a window from you, tests positive, so you receive an alert – even though you are outside and separated by a window.

The systems require that you have a smart phone and the phone be turned on, with Bluetooth enabled. Many public schools, where students sit in close quarters for extended period of time, require that student phones be turned off during class hours, thus missing many potential Covid-19 contacts. Similarly, I have been told (by someone in the know but not independently verified) that up to 20% of confirmed cases in my state are of residents of institutions (such as prisons) where smart phones are prohibited.

Researchers have also noted that while the tracing app itself does not retain your location information, Android does, and forwards that information to Google for other uses.

There have been no controlled or randomized controlled trials of the technology – yet it will be used for a life safety critical function with large ramifications including putting you in quarantine for two weeks – or missing potential infectious contacts that could give a false sense of security.

Some researchers claim it can find some cases if as few as 15% of people use the app (.15 x .15 = 2.25% of cases are then detectable). That low figure must be compared to the problems of false positives and negatives that I note, above. Several countries that have tried using Bluetooth based contact tracing apps have found so few cases that they concluded it was not worth the trouble.

The system is less likely to produce useful results without human contact tracers and tracing. In my state, up 75% of contacts, as of last month, were untraceable. The states said this is because people had been in large group settings (like protests) where human-based contact tracing is impossible or because people are no longer cooperating with public health. A phone based app might detect potential contacts but will those using the app change their behavior?

The latter could be because public health has damaged their own credibility with inconsistent, contradictory, and frequently incoherent messaging.

Remember smart phone tracing apps?

Update: This says several U.S. states have rolled out contact tracing apps. Plus, Google and Apple just announced they are now rolling out contact tracing apps to all Android and iPhone phones over the next few weeks. There has been no controlled trial nor randomized controlled trial to judge their effectiveness or side effects. There is no evidence at this time that device-side, Bluetooth contact tracing apps will make a meaningful difference in Covid-19 spread- this is a population wide medical experiment.

The UK Bluetooth-based tracking app was rolled out in trial in May and was going to go nationwide almost immediately. As of August, its still in a trial phase. As I pointed out long ago, these Bluetooth tracking apps have so many problems they were unlikely to ever be used. (Note – some countries use network cell side tracking – and track locations of all phones, smart and dumb, all the time – and analyze the paths to find potential contacts. Many countries, like the U.S. and the EU cannot do this due to privacy laws.)

The app hasn’t been binned, although the government did change direction with their original app to instead use the Google/Apple system.

Source: Viral Facebook post on cost of “binned” test and trace app is wrong – Full Fact

Countries that have used smart phone based apps, including Australia and Iceland, found they uncovered single digit potential contacts nationwide and were not an effective use of public health resources. France, for example, has found the app is largely useless.

Virginia has launched a Bluetooth-based app. But hardly anyone is using it – and the way it works, if 30% of all phone users have the app installed, it can catch up to 9% of potential contacts (not including the false positive and negative problems inherent in the Bluetooth technology).

Northern Ireland has launched an app. The media is impressed that it has had 300,000 downloads. But at that number, it can detect about 2.5% of potential contacts in the country due to … math.

Finally, the supposed privacy safeguards in the Apple-Google technology do not actually work on Android phones. Because of what Google does with Google Play Services, personally identifiable information is being collected.

Basically, Google has been caught red handed, lying once again about their alleged privacy of personal data.

The data shared includes long-term, unchangeable identifiers of the phone users, including their phone’s IP address, WiFi MAC address, International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, SIM serial number, phone number and Gmail address, as well as fine-grained data from other, potentially sensitive apps, such as banking, dating or health apps. This is data which, when considered together, has the potential to draw a very detailed map of our lives and activities.

Why I have repeatedly stated there is no such thing as “anonymized location data”

In the data drawn from apps, each cellphone is typically represented by an alphanumeric identifier that isn’t linked to the name of the cellphone’s owner. But the movement patterns of a phone over time can allow analysts to deduce its ownership—for example, where the phone is located during the evenings and overnight is likely where the phone-owner lives.

Source: U.S. Government Contractor Embedded Software in Apps to Track Phones – WSJ

Let’s just mandate it: “NSA Warns Cellphone Location Data Could Pose National-Security Threat”

The National Security Agency issued new guidance on Tuesday for military and intelligence-community personnel, warning about the risks of cellphone location tracking through apps, wireless networks and Bluetooth technology.

The detailed warning from one of the nation’s top intelligence agencies is an acknowledgment that Silicon Valley’s practice of collecting and selling cellphone location information for advertising and marketing purposes poses a serious national-security risk to many inside the government….

Source: NSA Warns Cellphone Location Data Could Pose National-Security Threat – WSJ

In December 2019, the FAA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring mandatory radio-based Remote Identification and tracking of all hobby radio controlled aircraft weighing more than 250 grams (about 1/2 pound). The Final Rule is expected in December of 2021. The NPRM itself eventually ends the radio control model aircraft hobby that currently exists, makes it legal to fly only certified, manufactured drones that are tracked in real time. The primary purpose is to clear the air space above your home and turn it over to AmazonGoogleUPS. The FAA asserts all rights to the airspace in your back yard, for example.

Every remote controlled aircraft would be required by Federal regulation to connect to the Internet and log its activities in an Internet cloud database, in real time. Those providing the cloud databases may offer them for free in exchange for who knows what – but the FAA itself proposed they might collect photo images and telemetry – such as WiFi and Bluetooth communications collected by the craft.

In effect, the FAA mandates a nationwide low level altitude surveillance network of potentially millions of drones collecting data in real time and logging it in data bases – that may as well be located in China.

Meanwhile, the US DoD and the US Department of the Interior banned the use of Chinese made drones over fears of their use for espionage.

While the left hand bans drones from collecting data, the right hand mandates that all drones must collect potentially invasive data on behalf of foreign organizations.

We know that U.S. firms and others are collecting massive amounts of private data through the use of apps on our smart phones. Google itself collects your location data, even when you turn location services off.

The primary business function of the Internet is surveillance to be used for many purposes.