Apple must expand its COVID tracing technology into large scale testing

Posted:
in iPhone edited May 2020
In the rough business climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple has taken pride in going beyond "competent business as usual" to help. But the company and its trillion-dollar peers should now take the initiative to gather testing data that governments globally are failing to handle. Lives-- and their profits-- depend on it.

Apple Park
We have never before needed a doughnut this badly


We previously detailed a variety of ways Apple has voluntarily assisted in the global coronavirus pandemic, ranging from using its supply chain expertise to source masks for frontline healthcare workers to using its design capabilities to fabricate millions of face shields and other needed gear. Apple has also contributed to causes including food assistance for those hit hardest economically by the pandemic, developed remote education resources for teachers and parents, and worked to develop a secure technical basis for tracking the spread of the virus in a way that doesn't allow governments and malicious third parties to track user behaviors for other purposes.

In its most recent quarterly earnings conference call, Apple's chief executive Tim Cook specifically addressed this.

"In this difficult environment, our users are depending on Apple products in renewed ways to stay connected, informed, creative, and productive," Cook said. "We feel motivated and inspired to not only keep meeting these needs in innovative ways but to continue giving back to support the global response, from the tens of millions of face masks and custom-built face shields we've sent to medical professionals around the world, to the millions we've donated to organizations like Global Citizen and America's Food Fund."

Corporations: we urgently need you

Yet there is something else that Apple and its rich corporate peers can uniquely do: assist in compiling testing data on large numbers of people. This data is desperately needed because it will inform us of the real extent of the pandemic and how the virus behaves.

Despite many efforts by scientists worldwide to determine how fast the virus is spreading, what affect it has on the infected, why some are apparently able to asymptomatically carry the virus, and whether people who are infected have gained immunity to reinfection and for how long, we still do not have a clear picture needed to make effective public policy decisions ranging from how quickly we can ease restrictions to whether it is safe to send kids back to school, or whether people who have developed antibodies can return to work safely.

How Apple's exposure notification system works


Globally, there are fears that various governments are hiding the true extent of the virus for political reasons to avoid looking incompetent or to reveal any weaknesses. The United States is actively working to portray China as having falsely obscured the true extent of its infections. Even in the U.S., there is widespread ignorance of whether people who are dying with COVID-19 symptoms are actually infected, have been exposed to the virus but died due to other issues, or have died from common causes such as heart attacks or strokes without any COVID-related symptoms or a diagnosis, yet which many have been caused by damage from the virus.

The largest enemy is ignorance

We simply do not know the answers to many of these questions. There are also political reasons for obscuring the truth.

Additionally, the widespread desperation to try to find the truth has green-lit a variety of tests that are simply not accurate enough to provide useful results. A study of the tests that were rushed into use in the U.S. without the typical, time-consuming approval process of standard FDA certification has indicated that many antibody tests now being used are giving false positives so often that their results are creating additional chaos.

There are now groups on Facebook and elsewhere that are actively promoting conspiracy theories that suggest that the entire pandemic is a globalist effort to enslave individuals and force the vaccination of people in order to curtail their freedoms. Without clear, non-political data on what is actually happening, we will continue to suffer from bad public policy based on bad data, without a clear understanding on what is actually going on.

And as mistakes are made by public officials relying on data that is not accurate, trust in authority and science will erode and more people will be driven in desperation to believe anything that that seems plausible. This will be disastrous for society, for individuals, and for the economy.

Where are the tests?

Regardless of political affiliation, the executive and legislative branches of federal and state governments in the United States are losing credibility largely due to decisions made without a clear foundation in accurate data. People are growing less and less confident in governments to provide testing, given that weeks have passed and promises of widespread testing being widely available have turned out to simply be untrustworthy.

This presents a huge opportunity for companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft to work together in their own self-interest to create public confidence in corporate activity, as well as public policy shaped by accurate, real-world data. These companies already have intimate access to their customers and audiences. Most people would be more willing to trust these companies than their elected political overlords, many of whom they've just witnessed making wildly embarrassing mistakes.

Heading into the pandemic, Apple rapidly identified several ways it could help. One way was to take its existing research it had already made to create a secure system for finding lost hardware for its "Find My" app and adapting this to develop a safe and secure way to track potentially proximal transmissions with virus-infected individuals and communicate this data without revealing the identities or location of any users.

Governments from the UK to France to Australia quickly jumped on the idea of using coronavirus panic to roll out their own widespread surveillance systems to track viral transmission that they could then perpetually use to also track other activities ranging from drug use to money laundering to human trafficking and other crimes. Other governments would also love a system that enabled them to track terrorists or dissidents or even political rivals.

Yet, Apple has stridently pushed to make its COVID-19 tracking system independent from politics and to maintain control over the system, allowing it both the power to enable and to shut it down once the pandemic is over.

It's time for big tech to flex its muscle for us

If Apple and other major global corporations similarly pursued widespread testing, they could assure users that their tests would not be used to further political oppression or other partisan efforts, collecting data that scientists could use to inform responsible, intelligent public policy no matter what politicians would like to have happen. We desperately need this non-partisan, non-nationalist, non-political, non-racist data to inform public policy and to convince skeptics of the need to continue what may be difficult and expensive best practices needed to save lives and safely reboot global economies.

We have never before needed trillion-dollar corporations to jump in and check the power of our politically motivated governments. We desperately need their help to deliver reliable testing data that our governments are failing to competently gather on their own. And it is in the financial interest of these big companies to deliver reliable testing data because as long as we suffer through incompetent political squabbles that erode peoples' trust in their own governments, these corporations will also suffer dramatically from economic uncertainty and the building contempt for sloppy public policy directed by ideology rather than data and facts.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft could start by rapidly testing their own workers, followed by opt-in testing provided to their customers. Leveraging their relationships with users, these firms and others could begin compiling real-world data that would help inform epidemiologists and other scientists working to better understand how this virus works, how it affects the infected, how safe the exposed are to reinfection, what risks there are to individuals with preexisting issues that make them vulnerable, and how to best spend public resources in mitigating the damage caused by the virus and its spread.

Without this data, these companies may end up watching some segments of their customer base die unnecessarily while others retract in fear without a solid basis in understanding what degree of social interaction is safe and needed to resume normal work. This pandemic is clearly hitting some people far harder than others. It is the responsibility-- and in the best interests-- of our tech giants to help protect the vulnerable and empower the capable to do as much as they can to avoid infection and also avoid irrational fear of a still largely mysterious enemy virus.

We desperately need the testing data only they can be trusted to deliver for us. Will they help?
gatorguy
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    There is no Covid-tracing app from Apple that it can test. There’s an API that developers can use and then app testing is largely with them and govts/NGO’s. Apple can and will only check those apps on AppStore compliance. Sadly, the success of this effort gets largely determined by authocratic societies that via enforcement, can effectively reach critical saturation (>70%) in the field. Privacy-compliant API’s and functionality brought up by AAPL/GOOG are nice to have but aren’t success determinators. This implies AAPL/GOOG will face a lot of complications before leading to success in Western Societies - if ever - sadly.
    edited May 2020 chaicka
  • Reply 2 of 27
    hucom2000hucom2000 Posts: 149member
    Really? All this talk about the importance of privacy all these years, and now we're lost without "big brother"? Is it the only possible path to recovery? Is that really the kind of sacrifice it takes? Not every invention coming from the tech-industry turns out to be for the greater good in the end. I don't have the answers. But I have doubts.
    edited May 2020 elijahglkruppxamax
  • Reply 3 of 27
    chaickachaicka Posts: 254member
    Is this another one of those ‘America-First’ or ‘America-Power’ mindset?

    Keep whatever mentioned one the article to USA. Not all countries need this as there are countries who have done well and better management. Data isn’t everything. If any policy maker ignores simple things such as lifestyle habits and cultural differences, then no amount of data/information will help.

    Simple things like wearing shoes into houses being common in western world but not so in Asia, or sharing of food without a serving spoon in Asia culture but not so in western culture. All these make a difference in contributions towards rate of infections.
  • Reply 4 of 27
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,013member
    hucom2000 said:
    Really? All this talk about the importance of privacy all these years, and now we're lost without "big brother"? Is it the only possible path to recovery? Is that really the kind of sacrifice it takes? Not every invention coming from the tech-industry turns out to be for the greater good in the end. I don't have the answers. But I have doubts.
    And all it took was a little fear and panic, and we gave up our privacy and freedom in the blink of the eye. 1984 FTW!
    edited May 2020 mike1xamaxSpamSandwich
  • Reply 5 of 27
    Interesting. I believe government and the people have had to face this pandemic as best they could as it developed. Hindsight is always clearer than foresight. 
    Now is a good time for gathering data and hashing it through to determine truth from fiction and lead to remedies and vaccines at some rational point. 
    We are all sick of partisan conflict and need to rally as a nation and globally for a better future.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 27
    mike1mike1 Posts: 3,018member
    Not sure about the concern with testing now.
    About 6 weeks into this mess and I can now walk into any urgent care or lab and have either an infection or antibody test performed. No symptoms required anymore.That's not so bad considering.
    gatorguywatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 27
    I am happy with how my government has handled the pandemic. 🇨🇦.  Both at the federal and provincial level.  Could it have ben better?  Yes.  But our political leaders align their decisions with the science.  In my province, our Provincial Health officer gets more air time that our Health Minister.  And our Health Minister gets more air time than our Premier.

    I can see why this article was written though.   I don’t see any unified, level headed, medical messaging Coming out of the US.  And having watched some of your President’s news conferences, I can see where you would want big tech to take the lead.  There are many countries who have (mostly) put partisan politics aside and work towards the common good.  But what I see happening in the U.S. makes me shake my head. I really hope that what I’m seeing is partisan media slinging mud in an election year. 

    Big tech can help the scientific community, but it shouldn’t supplant it. I think the medical community should work with tech on the solutions.  They're both in it for the long haul.  Then get the elected officials of today (because they come and go) to communicate it to the masses.  
    gatorguywatto_cobrafastasleepjony0
  • Reply 8 of 27
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,499member
    chaicka said:

    Simple things like wearing shoes into houses being common in western world but not so in Asia
    It's not common in Canada either.  I find it very weird when I visit my friends and relatives in the US.  Though I can't imagine a significant portion of COVID infections would be traced back to shoes.  But regardless, it feels very unsanitary.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 27
    xamaxxamax Posts: 135member
    1) what a load of cr*p. Sounds pretty much like a paid for ed, propaganda
    2) it would be enough to see  in bed with Boogle to see it’s a bad idea.
    3) Apple has gone dark with Tim, too much money. Now I understand the Watch with its focus on health as a precursor to the RFID chip, 666 Mark of the Beast... and guess what MS has just filed patents for that. Never before  had launched a product the likes of a technology trying to justify its use, it’s easy to see now the Agenda behind it.
    4) Also what’s this of  executive working with Biden
  • Reply 10 of 27
    Dan_DilgerDan_Dilger Posts: 1,583member
    hucom2000 said:
    Really? All this talk about the importance of privacy all these years, and now we're lost without "big brother"? Is it the only possible path to recovery? Is that really the kind of sacrifice it takes? Not every invention coming from the tech-industry turns out to be for the greater good in the end. I don't have the answers. But I have doubts.
    Corporations that demonstrate an interest in preserving privacy, and who work against efforts by the state to surveil wherever they can, are “us.” 

    Apple in particular has demonstrated that it is more competent and better aligned with the needs of its customers than whatever political party those customers may have voted for. 

    It’s not a matter a sacrifice, it’s simply acting in your own self interest and aligning yourself with others who share the same self interests.

    When that comes to survival, to economic prosperity, to protecting the vulnerable, to maintaining privacy and security, and protecting the environment and the future world of our children, we should pay more attention to the reality in front of us than some trite images of imperialist era corporate barons. 
    tmayStrangeDayswatto_cobrafastasleepjony0
  • Reply 11 of 27
    Dan_DilgerDan_Dilger Posts: 1,583member

    mike1 said:
    Not sure about the concern with testing now.
    About 6 weeks into this mess and I can now walk into any urgent care or lab and have either an infection or antibody test performed. No symptoms required anymore.That's not so bad considering.
    That’s not the case for most people. 
    StrangeDayswatto_cobrafastasleepjony0
  • Reply 12 of 27
    Dan_DilgerDan_Dilger Posts: 1,583member

    Interesting. I believe government and the people have had to face this pandemic as best they could as it developed. Hindsight is always clearer than foresight. 
    Now is a good time for gathering data and hashing it through to determine truth from fiction and lead to remedies and vaccines at some rational point. 
    We are all sick of partisan conflict and need to rally as a nation and globally for a better future.
    The Unites States completely fumbled this situation. The elected administration decided to terminate advanced research into pandemics and new diseases even as the scope of the threat continued to grow in tandem with our understanding.  

    The federal government has continued to fail in every aspect of its disaster preparedness and in its ability to even react to needs as they arise. It has taken zero responsibility and has left the states on their own.

    I can’t imagine a more incompetent government for the United States than one that demands political favors before granting assistance to its states in a pandemic.

    This is the worst crisis of our generation. The federal government has massively failed. This is the result of having a tv show personality and minor casino grifter run the most important office in the country. Absolutely incompetent on every level. A rejection of science at every turn. Attempts to spin the problem as if it’s just an unpopular episode of the Apprentice.

    This is real life and the president is an absolute jackass surrounded by incompetent lickspittal dipshits 
    tmayheadfull0wineDAalsethwatto_cobrafastasleepjony0
  • Reply 13 of 27

    Interesting. I believe government and the people have had to face this pandemic as best they could as it developed. Hindsight is always clearer than foresight. 
    Now is a good time for gathering data and hashing it through to determine truth from fiction and lead to remedies and vaccines at some rational point. 
    We are all sick of partisan conflict and need to rally as a nation and globally for a better future.
    The Unites States completely fumbled this situation. The elected administration decided to terminate advanced research into pandemics and new diseases even as the scope of the threat continued to grow in tandem with our understanding.  

    The federal government has continued to fail in every aspect of its disaster preparedness and in its ability to even react to needs as they arise. It has taken zero responsibility and has left the states on their own.

    I can’t imagine a more incompetent government for the United States than one that demands political favors before granting assistance to its states in a pandemic.

    This is the worst crisis of our generation. The federal government has massively failed. This is the result of having a tv show personality and minor casino grifter run the most important office in the country. Absolutely incompetent on every level. A rejection of science at every turn. Attempts to spin the problem as if it’s just an unpopular episode of the Apprentice.

    This is real life and the president is an absolute jackass surrounded by incompetent lickspittal dipshits 
    Through the lens of the media, that’s certainly how it looks from the outside. It can’t really be THAT bad, can it??? 
  • Reply 14 of 27
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 6,339member
    I'm not in the U.S and perhaps I don't have enough information to form a valid opinion but I woke up to the images of people armed to the teeth in combat dress protesting in Michigan and was quite literally flabbergasted by their lack of understanding of what has been a pandemic for weeks now. I am still trying to fathom what must be going on in their thought process.

    Hopefully governments around the world will now learn from this experience and be better prepared next time around. 

    Big tech obviously has a role to play too but this time around, a lot of scrambling has gone on in both camps because no one was truly prepared and unfortunately, front line medical and social services staff got hit hard.

    We had one warning after another and failed to prepare adequately. 

    BlueDot detected this possibly before anyone else which just shows what AI and Big Data are capable of. We just need to work out a common protocol and make sure it works. The next regular flu season or the second COVID-19 wave will give us the perfect test bed. 
    edited May 2020 headfull0wineStrangeDays
  • Reply 15 of 27
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,648member
    ‘Business leaders’ are typically psychopaths (politically correct I would have used the phrase: morally  challenged), quite deranged and mostly inept.
    In IT they also often belong to a sect (think of WordPerfect).
    The last boss I had was Aram from Altium a Bahai sect member, who liked firing sprees; firing for example his best - and only - compiler designer over the phone, who was working for subdivision Tasking (in the Netherlands), and would have earned top dollar in silicon valley because of his skills.
    Not the kind of people you would trust with anything.

    If Apple is sincere, it would setup funds to help individual people (not companies) having no income during the Corona crisis.
    Apple should use its hundreds of billions it burns normally (to buy back zilch) to help people out.


    edited May 2020
  • Reply 16 of 27
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    As our British friends and neighbors say, “bollocks”! The annual flu doesn’t ‘require’ spying on the population for the governments of the world and neither does this coronavirus.
    edited May 2020
  • Reply 17 of 27
    ivanhivanh Posts: 597member
    The Australian government already put CovidSafe apps in use and 3 million Australians have downloaded and installed it on their iPhones and Android smart phones.  Developer of the apps is anonymous.

    If you ask me for a blind guess, I would think that the CovidSafe apps on Android and iOS platforms are the Apple-Google joint effort apps. This is exactly the large scale test of the Apple’s COVID Tracing app, dude.
    edited May 2020
  • Reply 18 of 27
    hucom2000hucom2000 Posts: 149member
    mike1 said:
    Not sure about the concern with testing now.
    About 6 weeks into this mess and I can now walk into any urgent care or lab and have either an infection or antibody test performed. No symptoms required anymore.That's not so bad considering.
    Too simplified at this point. Even the most expensive anti-body tests have a statistically significant chance of false positives and false negatives - among slew of other issues that question their meaningfulness.

    "Right now, we have no evidence that the use of a serological test can show that an individual has immunity or is protected from reinfection."
    ( https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52335210 )

    Also:
    https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/17/who-issues-warning-on-coronavirus-testing-theres-no-evidence-antibody-tests-show-immunity.html
    https://www.nytimes.com/article/antibody-test-coronavirus.html
  • Reply 19 of 27
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 940member
    The biggest issue is lack of tests, both antigen and antibody. Lack of reagents is now the bottleneck. 

    Here's the problem -- high tech is needed, but not computer tech. The high tech needed is reagents, geneticists, biologists, virologists, etc. 

    But, US skillsets are mostly in various versions of entertainment. and verbal gymnastics. 

    There is nothing computer tech can do to relieve these bottlenecks. 

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 27
    Dan_DilgerDan_Dilger Posts: 1,583member

    Interesting. I believe government and the people have had to face this pandemic as best they could as it developed. Hindsight is always clearer than foresight. 
    Now is a good time for gathering data and hashing it through to determine truth from fiction and lead to remedies and vaccines at some rational point. 
    We are all sick of partisan conflict and need to rally as a nation and globally for a better future.
    The Unites States completely fumbled this situation. The elected administration decided to terminate advanced research into pandemics and new diseases even as the scope of the threat continued to grow in tandem with our understanding.  

    The federal government has continued to fail in every aspect of its disaster preparedness and in its ability to even react to needs as they arise. It has taken zero responsibility and has left the states on their own.

    I can’t imagine a more incompetent government for the United States than one that demands political favors before granting assistance to its states in a pandemic.

    This is the worst crisis of our generation. The federal government has massively failed. This is the result of having a tv show personality and minor casino grifter run the most important office in the country. Absolutely incompetent on every level. A rejection of science at every turn. Attempts to spin the problem as if it’s just an unpopular episode of the Apprentice.

    This is real life and the president is an absolute jackass surrounded by incompetent lickspittal dipshits 
    Through the lens of the media, that’s certainly how it looks from the outside. It can’t really be THAT bad, can it??? 

    hucom2000 said:
    Really? All this talk about the importance of privacy all these years, and now we're lost without "big brother"? Is it the only possible path to recovery? Is that really the kind of sacrifice it takes? Not every invention coming from the tech-industry turns out to be for the greater good in the end. I don't have the answers. But I have doubts.
    Corporations that demonstrate an interest in preserving privacy, and who work against efforts by the state to surveil wherever they can, are “us.” 

    Apple in particular has demonstrated that it is more competent and better aligned with the needs of its customers than whatever political party those customers may have voted for. 

    It’s not a matter a sacrifice, it’s simply acting in your own self interest and aligning yourself with others who share that same self interest. 

    When that comes to survival, to economic prosperity, to protecting the vulnerable, to maintaining privacy and security, and protecting the environment and the future world of our children, we should pay more attention to the reality in front of us than some trite images of imperialist era corporate barons. 
    fastasleep
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