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Billions To Miss Out On New Coronavirus Tracking Tech

Around two billion global smartphone users are tipped to miss out on new coronavirus contact-tracing technology, which is currently in development by Apple and Google, and slated to release shortly.

Analysts warn many devices over five years old won’t have suitable components to run the new system and government-backed apps, compromising its efficiency in vulnerable demographics (e.g. senior citizens and low-socioeconomic groups).

“… Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing,” reads a company blog post.

“Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.”

“First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.”

New apps seek to warn users if they have encountered someone with coronavirus, and recommends self-isolating. Data is passed onto governments and health organisations to help contain the spread.

Google and Apple’s joint system will employ Bluetooth technology to track coronavirus’ spread, with “user privacy and security central to the design.”

Speaking to The Financial Times, Counterpoint Research analyst, Neil Shah, claims around two billion  users won’t have suitable smartphones, and many are in at-risk coronavirus data segments. 

The research agency estimates a quarter of global smartphones in daily active use do not incorporate the required Bluetooth ‘low energy’ chips needed to detect device proximity, without significantly running out a phone’s battery. Another 1.5 million users are said to not have phones which incorporate Android or iOS.

Counterpoint expects around half the population of India to own a suitable handset, with around 88% compatibility in developed nations like the UK, US and Japan.

Devices will use the new contact-tracing system to record the date, time and distance of contact between two smartphones, however, GPS data is said to not be used. Some consumer advocacy groups have raised concerns about user privacy, however, the tech giants assert considerations have been factored.

Mr Shah warns many users with incompatible devices (e.g. senior citizens and low-socioconemic individuals) are generally more vulnerable to the virus, which could compromise the app’s effectiveness.


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