Issue 86

Virus tracing apps are malware

Delivered on 13 July 2020 by Justin Pyvis. About a 3 min read.

Virus tracking apps are all the rage. Or at least they were, until global governments almost unilaterally messed up the delivery. It turns out they are - almost without exception - awful in terms of data privacy and security. Unfortunately that means they won't work, because a 'critical mass' of people will avoid installing them. Here's the New York Times:

In fact, “the vast majority” of virus-tracing apps used by governments lack adequate security and “are easy for hackers” to attack, according to a recent software analysis by Guardsquare, a mobile app security company.

“It’s a cautionary tale for governments aggregating such an enormous amount of data,” said Claudio Guarnieri, the head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, who identified the problems with the Qatari app.
Source: Guardsquare

People will tolerate their data being siphoned off provided they're adequately compensated (e.g. a good search engine, email service, or social network). For many, government contact tracing apps fail that trade-off, which is why it's so important to use the right framework from the start (hint: decentralised, open sourced).

Have a great week. Cheers,

— Justin

Other bits of interest

Australia's COVIDSafe app is one big fail

  • It has no active user data "due to privacy provisions".
  • It is still "plagued with technical bugs… mostly related to the app's struggles when getting iOS and Android devices to ‘talk’ to each other with Bluetooth".
  • It does not notify users if they've been in contact with someone infectious, rather "they'll be notified but it will be by a manual tracer".

This statement by Minister Stuart Rober's office about why the government won't consider the Apple and Google framework was disturbing because it's a lie:

Public health officials won’t have access to [contact tracing] information, which will reside with Google and Apple.

The data will reside on people's phones, not with Google and Apple. Public health officials will still receive data but only at the users' discretion.

COVID-19 spreads very, very easily

Yikes. According to a new paper published in The Lancet, following a mass testing campaign in Belgium's long-term care facilities, 74.8% of those who reported a positive COVID-19 test were either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, with the authors concluding:

Similar viral loads have been reported between symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, making the transmission and spread of the virus possible for both groups.

If true, it certainly goes some way to explaining how this coronavirus spreads so easily.

SoftBank was an investor in Wirecard

Of course SoftBank jumped in right before the crash:

Wirecard said last year that the Rajah & Tann investigation found no conclusive proof of fraud or corruption. The company never released the full version of the final report. The company characterized the investigation as independent.

The Financial Times first reported the whistleblower’s claims in early 2019, causing the company’s share price to fall sharply. A few months later, a $1 billion investment arranged by executives of Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp. gave the company a boost. That October, Financial Times articles questioned Wirecard’s relationships with third-party partners.

There are no good answers

Activity everywhere slowed significantly prior to government-mandated restrictions. People don’t want to catch and spread the virus.

Successfully controlling the virus means life can return to something resembling normal relatively quickly, albeit at a greater short-term cost.

Doing little and 'living with' the virus means people will remain cautious and economic activity will be subdued until an effective treatment/vaccine is developed (e.g. Sweden).

Attempting to do something but failing leaves you with the worst of both worlds.

Issue 86: Virus tracing apps are malware was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 13 July 2020. Join the conversation on the fediverse at