Apple and Google: Teaming Up for a Super Great Reason?

April 21, 2020

In a remarkable virtue signaling action, Apple and Google joined forces to deal with coronavirus. The approach is not the invention of a remedy, although both companies have dabbled in health. The mechanism is surveillance-centric in the view of DarkCyber.

Google Apple Contact Tracing (GACT): A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothes” provides an interesting opinion about the Google Apple Contact Tracing method. The idea seems to be that there are two wolves amongst the sheep. The sheep cooperate because that’s the nature of sheep. The wolves have the system, data, and methodology to make the sheep better. Are there other uses of the system? It is too soon to tell. But we can consider what the author asserts.

But the bigger picture is this: it creates a platform for contact tracing that works all across the globe for most modern smart phones (Android Marshmallow and up, and iOS 13 capable devices) across both OS platforms.

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The write up states:

Whenever a user tests positive, the daily keys his or her devices used the last 14 days can be retrieved by the app through the GACT API, presumably only after an authorised request from the health authorities. How this exactly works, and in particular how a health authority gets authorised to sign such request or generate a valid confirmation code is not clear (yet). The assumption is that these keys are submitted to a central server set up by the contact tracing app. Other instances of the same app on other people’s phones are supposed to regularly poll this central server to see if new daily keys of phones of recently infected people have been uploaded. Another function in the GACT API allows the app to submit these daily keys to the operating system for analysis. The OS then uses these keys to derive all possible proximity identifiers from them, and compares each of these with the proximity identifiers it has stored in the database of identifiers recently received over Bluetooth. Whenever a match is found, the app is informed, and given the duration and time of contact (where the time may be rounded to daily intervals).

The author includes this observation about the procedure:

Google and Apple announced they intend to release the API’s in May and build this functionality into the underlying platforms in the months to follow. This means that at some point in time operating system updates (through Google Play Services updates in the case of Android) will contain the new contact tracing code, ensuring that all users of a modern iPhone or Android smartphone will be tracked as soon as they accept the OS update. (Again, to be clear: this happens already even if you decide not to install a contact tracing app!) It is unclear yet how consent is handled, whether there will be OS settings allowing one to switch on or off contact tracing, what the default will be.

The write up concludes with this statement:

We have to trust Apple and Google to diligently perform this strict vetting of apps, to resist any coercion by governments, and to withstand the temptation of commercial exploitation of the data under their control. Remember: the data is collected by the operating system, whether we have an app installed or not. This is an awful amount of trust….

DarkCyber formulated several observations:

  1. The system appears to be more accessible than existing specialized services now available to some authorities
  2. Apple’s and Google’s cooperation seems mature in terms of operational set up. When did work on this method begin?
  3. Systems operated by private companies on behalf of government agencies rely on existing legal and contractual methods to persist through time; that is, once funded or supported in a fungible manner, the programs operate in an increasingly seamless manner.

Worth monitoring this somewhat rapid and slightly interesting tag team duo defeat their opponent.,

Stephen E Arnold, April 21, 2020

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