Apple Sneaks COVID-19 Contact Tracing into Latest Phone Update

May 21st, 2020 5:42 PM

If you install updates on your phone without reading the details then you might get an unwanted surprise. The latest involves contact tracking technology.

Contact tracing technology, in theory, will notify users when they have entered the presence of a person with the coronavirus. This project was begun in an effort “to protect people and get society back up and running,” according to an April 10 announcement via Apple’s newsroom. Even if this technology supposedly works, surveys have shown that three in five Americans are either unable or entirely unwilling to use the technology.

Veteran and MMA champion Paul Lazenby condemned this update on Twitter: “Contact tracing slipped discreetly into your latest IOS update. No notice given, no attention drawn to it. I wonder how many people really understand what a terrifying sign this is.”

He acknowledged that there appears to be an option to toggle the tracing technology on and off, but even then, whether the technology would stop tracking you without your consent is unknown.

Google, which is coordinating with Apple to lay the groundwork for this contact tracing system, has a history of tracking users even after they believe they have deactivated tracking technology.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) had previously scorched Google’s senior privacy counsel Will DeVries at a March 2019 hearing for that fact. He complained that Google technology still monitors customers even after they had supposedly turned said technology off. Hawley compared this fact to the iconic lyrics from “Hotel California,” quipping “It’s like that old Eagles song, ‘You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.’”

Ars Technica transcribed the wording of the new update’s description, which includes attributes such as “iOS 13.5 speeds up access to the passcode field on devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask and introduces the ‌Exposure Notification‌ API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities."

Among the specific features are the “‌Exposure Notification‌ API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities” and the “‌Option” to “automatically share health and other essential information from your Medical ID with emergency services when you place an emergency call (US only).”