Category Archives: Smart Phones

Contact tracing apps do not track surface contacts across time

First:

Contact Tracing of Surfaces Across Time

Another problem with contact tracing apps is they cannot detect contacts across time. Some one sits on a bus seat or commuter light rail seat, coughs. Then gets up and leaves. Another person boards and sits in that seat and touches it with their hands. The BLE model is unable to detect this contact. Considering that the NYC subway is now thought to have been a major vector for diseases transmission, this is a serious short coming.

Another example – some one sits at a table at Starbucks, coughs on the table a few times and then leaves. 3 minutes later, someone else sits at that table and touches their hands on the table and later scratches their nose. The contact tracing app cannot detect surface contamination scenarios across time. While Starbucks might clean tables frequently, there is no guarantee.

There is no way to solve this problem using a BLE contact algorithm that does not store actual location data – the BLE tracking app only detects instantaneous “moment in time” contacts.

This week the CDC said that may be surface contamination is not a big source of infections so perhaps this is no longer a big factor.

Does it Matter? May be not?

And then perhaps none of this matters. In Utah, where they have traced the source of most Covid-19 patients’ contacts, about 60% were traced to close family contacts that had the disease and about 25% to close social contacts. That’s 85% of all traced contacts. There were not many random connection contacts leading to becoming infected. Originally, China thought about 60% were due to random contacts – but it might be appropriate to extrapolate that – from congested cities where much of the population travels via public transit – to many U.S. states (like Utah) where public transit use may be just 1-2% of the population.

Moving Further Apart Can Increase Signal Strength!

Another interesting problem with BLE-based tracking apps. They rely on the BLE 1 mw discovery process which can send a signal out to about 10 meters. They combine this with the Received Signal Strength Indicator to estimate that a contact is within about 6-7 feet. In a pure “free space” environment, signal strength can approximate distance. But the real world is not a “free space” environment.

First, if the phone is in your left pocket and you stand several feet from another person on your right, whose phone is in their right pocket, the direct path may have lost 20 db of signal strength due to your body blockage. The software thinks the two of you are far apart when you are actually standing next to each other.

Second, in the real world, radio signals do not travel in a straight line from transmitter direct to receiver. Instead, signals reflect off of objects in the environment. Some times the reflected signals arrive at the receiver in a way that increases their apparent strength and in other cases they arrive in a way that decreases their apparent strength. This is known as “multi-path”.

Think of a pond of calm water. Toss in a rock and see how the waves move across the surface. What happens when the waves strike the shore or another rock – they typically reflect or bounce back creating a new wave front. In a complex environment, there are many wave fronts traversing that water. In some places, wave heights may combine momentarily to create a higher wave, while in others they may combine to create a deeper trough.

The effect of this in the Bluetooth contact tracing app scenario is that – and this has been tested in the real world – there are real scenarios where people moving further apart see a stronger received signal strength!

The software erroneously thinks these two people have increased their risk when they are moving further apart!.

The opposite can also occur – as people move closer together, due to multipath, the devices may sense a drop in signal strength and erroneously think there is less risk.

The Need for Controlled Trials

This is why this technology must be tested in the real world before it is rolled out to entire populations. The bottom line assessment is: Does it detect actual contacts we need to worry about – without missing contacts we do need to worry about? Does it result in an actual, measured decrease in the spread of Covid-19?

To answer those questions requires controlled trials, just as controlled trials were required for the use of hydroxchloroquinine.

Some will argue no controlled trial is necessary as the use of the app is harmless. However, if you are periodically placed in 14-day quarantines – unnecessarily – harming your income and mental health, is that truly harmless?

If not tested, deploying smart phone contact tracing apps is a mass population medical experiment without informed consent – which is illegal in the United States. But given we are dealing with public health, laws no longer matter, of course.

Covid tracking apps summarized

When people mention “Covid tracking apps” it would be useful to first define what is meant by “Covid tracking app”. There are many approaches in use and many that are proposed. The various methods are remarkably different. When you hear that “Country X used a tracking app and they have fewer cases”, this does not mean they used a tracking app like you have in mind.

Most apps use location data provided by the cellular network itself or on GPS/Wi-Fi position fixes stored on the phone and shared directly with public health authorities.  Some use the data for contact tracing, coupled with free Covid-19 testing, while others use location data to enforce strict geo-fenced quarantine procedures that if violated, may result in arrest and imprisonment. Few existing apps use  close contact tracing based on Bluetooth.

Contact tracing apps, by themselves, appear to provide little value. As we will see, to be useful there needs to be supporting infrastructure outside the app – such as Korea offering Covid-19 testing to those in close contact. And the app must be installed by nearly all smart phone users (and this will miss about 15% of phones that are not smart phones). Most countries are not using  phone-based apps to track location – they are using the phone network to report locations on 100% of phones in use, which is very different than voluntary installation of a tracking  app.

Consequently, when you hear someone refer to “contact tracing app”, you need to ask them to define what they mean by “contact tracing app”.

What follows is a review of various “contact tracing” apps used in different countries.

Continue reading Covid tracking apps summarized

Telecom: There’s no killer app for 5G

5G, where it exists, increases network capacity and might deliver a few things faster but other than that, the “killer app” is missing for now:

there’s no “killer app” for 5G right now. And I don’t know what it’s going to be

Source: Is 5G really that fast?

More likely, what 5G delivers is a new competitor for home-based fast Internet service. There will also be some applications involving “Internet of Things” sensors that are logging data.

And for sure, there will be many applications that involve increased surveillance of your life, your neighbors, and so on.

Apple disables battery percent remaining if you replace battery outside of Apple’s authorized service centers

While the Service message is on, users won’t be able to get important battery information, including the battery percentage left and whether their battery is healthy or needs to be replaced.

Source: Apple Hobbles iPhones With Batteries Replaced Outside Authorized Repair Shops | Fortune

Apple makes your iPhone run worse, even if you replace your iPhone battery with an actual Apple iPhone battery.

I will not be buying an iPhone. Previously, I had an iPad 2 that was de facto killed by an Apple OS upgrade; this happened to numerous iPad 2 owners. As best I can tell, the Apple OS update used significantly more RAM than the prior version, causing the iPad 2 to become unusable – literally taking a second or more to process each touch keypad press, for example. Apple killed off their iPad 2 products to force upgrades. Apple also prohibits downgrading to a previous OS update – thus permanently damaging your product.

Not long ago, Apple was caught slowing iPhone processing speeds as batteries aged – Apple claimed it did this to extend the usefulness of the iPhone (but did not tell users they needed to buy a new battery). Many people noticed the slow downs occurred around new iPhone product announcements and suggested this was used to encourage, if not force, users to upgrade to a newer iPhone.

I also had a Macbook that was just 3 1/2 years old when Apple announced it was discontinuing support. This meant that new OS updates could not be installed, which quickly led to app software no longer being update-able. In short order, items like web browsers could no longer be updated to work with contemporary cloud services – simply because third parties would not support slightly older OSes.

When Apple evolved its Macbook line to eliminate Firewire ports, Steve Jobs famously said, “Just buy a new video camera” because, you know, everyone could afford to do that. HDV format video cameras used Firewire interfaces to offload video to computers, a technology once promoted by Apple. (Apple did, much later, add the Thunderbolt interface and sold a Firewire adapter.)

On the software side, Apple killed off its Final Cut Pro product and replaced it with the incompatible Final Cut X product. People with productions in progress – or who had a need to go back to old projects – were told to take a hike.

For a while, Apple killed the use of Java completely. Some of us relied on the use of Java for cloud-based applications for banking and financial service organizations, and to access government databases. Lacking Java support for critical needs, we had to switch to Windows-based PCs.

I do not understand the Apple fanaticism when Apple has a long reputation of treating its own customers rudely.

I will keep my two Apple products running as long as I can but I have no plans to replace them due to Apple’s repeatedly treating us like crap, rather than valued customers.

#Google #Pixel Pixel 2 phone battery drain problem after #Android 9 Pie update #Android9

As widely reported, Google’s Android 9 Pie update to their Pixel phones killed battery life on the phones. This affects both Pixel and Pixel 2 phones.

A typical scenario is the phone loses up to 50% of its battery capacity in 5-8 hours, even when the phone is hardly used at all.

I found that if I turn off Wi-Fi, then battery life is back to normal. That is, in the same scenario, the battery has lost just 7% of its capacity with 93% battery capacity remaining.

Source: [Updated] Massive battery drain on Pixel/Pixel 2 after Android 9 Pie, users say – PiunikaWeb

Google was made aware of the problem at least by the end of August as shown on their Issue Tracker, but no word yet on any fix to this serious Android defect.

 

How your phone is used to track you as you move through a store

Ultrasound “beacons” are set up in various locations such as within stores. Apps that run on smart phones are constantly listening for ultrasound beacons (which are emitted above the audible range so we cannot hear them). Each beacon can encode a unique ID to be used to determine proximity to a specific location.

In some cases, ultrasound or other types of audible signals can be embedded in television or audio programming and apps can detect what you are listening to.

Two studies have examined the deployment and implications of ultrasonic beacons. Arp et al. measured the prevalence of ultrasonic beacons in the wild, and found them deployed on websites and in stores. Furthermore,they found 234 apps in the Google Play Store that were constantly, passively monitoring for these beacons, in order to track users’ online and offline browsing behaviors [28]. Mavroudis et al. consider various attacks against users that leverage ultrasonic beacons, including de-anonymizing Tor users [59].

Source (academic paper): Panoptisypy: Characterizing Audio and Video Exfiltration from Android Applications

Numerous apps are using access to the array of environmental sensors (including cameras, microphones and more) to assess the environment in which the phone is being carried.

HP computers and data privacy and spying

I have an older HP desktop computer. I’ve long observed significant slow downs as various background tasks were underway and I had assumed it was just anti-virus software running in the background. But it was not – instead, the HP Support Assistance was frequently scanning the entire system, using 55% of the CPU and hogging the disk input/output, tremendously slowing down the system. I finally disabled the HP software as I had never seen any value from it.

Then I went to read the HP Privacy policy (which may be different today from what it was when I bought the computer years ago).

(Click on any image to read the full size screen capture of the HP privacy policy).

In addition to the data collected by HP, HP also “deduces” attributes about you, and collects data when you use social media logins to access anything. This means when you log in to a site using your Facebook login, data about your visit is collected by Facebook and shared with Facebook’s partners (which is literally the entire world).

HP remotely spies on your use of HP printers, collecting a database of pages printed, type of print media used, what ink you are using, including what brand of ink, and the names of the applications from which you print.

HP also purchases information from third party data services, social media networks and advertising networks. Ad networks are used to track every web site you visit online. HP uses this, as they disclose, to get your name, address, “preferences, interests and certain demographic data”. Clearly, HP is buying data about us from Facebook, Google and Twitter.

This example illustrates the pervasive – and nasty – web of anti-privacy efforts underway by the high tech industry. The entire industry works together to intensely monitor, intercept and collect enormous quantities of data about every one of us. Further, they use automated software systems to analyze and interpret this data to then draw inferences about us.

A previous post on my SocialPanic.org blog found that inferences made by Facebook and Twitter were completely wrong – but there is no way to correct that. In most cases there is no way to know what inferences companies like HP have made about us.)

What Can You Do?

  • Delete the HP support assistant. I have found no value from having run it on this computer for many years. Optionally, disable it in the Windows Task Scheduler so it does not run.
  • Delete or disable other software that you do not need or us.
  • Do not use social media logins to web sites other than the social media web site.
  • Use privacy enhanced browsing to minimize tracking across the web. First, never use Chrome. Google logs every web site you visit. Use the Epic Privacy Browser or use Mozilla Firefox with the Privacy Badger and Ghostery plug ins. Use the Cookie-AutoDelete plugin to automatically remove tracking cookies when leaving a web site (you can optionally “white list” web sites so that cookies and logins remain active, if you wish).
  • The Epic Privacy Browser includes access to a proxy server to hide your IP address from web sites.
  • When using mobile phones, note that operating systems such as Android always track your location if Location Services is enabled (such as using mapping). Most people leave Location Services on all the time, and Google uses that to build a database of everywhere you travel and every place you visit. Google also records information about WiFi networks and Bluetooth devices within range of your phone. Even when location services is turned off, WiFi access points and even some Bluetooth devices can reveal your location anyway. Disabling WiFi and Bluetooth will reduce this data collection.

The tech industry has been operating in a free wheeling, Orwellian 1984 world of intense spying on everyone who uses online services including web sites, monitoring our email communications, our social media Likes, every where we travel, and even monitoring our use of home printers.

Automobiles are also now collecting information about our use of the vehicles, including our driving habits and locations visited.

They argue that if we don’t like this, then we should not use online services or we should not use printers or we should not drive a car. These arguments are wholly unrealistic.

Yet most people seem oblivious to this: Facebook has been widely exposed as a massive global surveillance network and propaganda platform – yet financial analysts say they see little harm to Facebook’s business as few seem to care.

Private Prison Phone Company tracking location of all cell phone users, nationwide

They collect cell phone location data collected by all major cellular phone carriers, and then sell that location data to law enforcement agencies (no warrant needed). The data is used to conduct surveillance on potentially everyone in the U.S. who has a cellular phone.

Source: Senator Wyden Demands Answers from Prison Phone Service Caught Sharing Cellphone Location Data | Electronic Frontier Foundation

When the FCC mandated “wireless 911” technology so that phones would be required to report their position to 911 operators, I predicted this would be used for surveillance purposes and was, in fact, the primary goal.