The answer to this one’s a little complicated. The TL;DR version is, no, the U.S. government hasn’t downloaded a secret COVID-19 app to your phone in order to track you. Some governments are doing this, but the U.S. and Canada are not among them.
This doesn’t mean your movements aren’t being tracked. It just means you probably don’t have a government app.
“Let me ‘splain… No, ees too much. Let me sum up.”
– Inigo Montoya
To begin with, there is such an app, and most smartphones are ready to host it. This is an announcement of the app’s development from back in April:
However, it’s not a government app. It’s being designed and built privately, by Apple and Google, working in tandem for once. Unlike most apps on your phone, privacy is built in. And you have to choose to download it or you can’t use it.
The basic idea is, if someone with the app is diagnosed with COVID-19, their phone will check the logs of everyone else with the app who has been in close contact for long enough to set up a low-level Bluetooth connection. These people will receive a notification from the host server, which will advise them to get tested. If most people in a geographic area have the app, it should be enough by itself to ensure everyone who needs a test can get one.
(Unfortunately, if you live in a housing complex, you might accidentally get tagged by your upstairs neighbors. Natural limitation of GPS there. Might want to turn it off when you get home… unless of course you get food delivered.)
Having said that, there is one other app you should be aware of: A ransomware was apparently spread by Canadian hackers through a government website, phishing links, and fake emails. It starts locking confidential files as soon as it’s downloaded. So don’t download it. This link takes you to a tinfoil-hat site that, nevertheless, has solid information on this particular issue.
And that’s it. Except, of course, it’s not.
If the government wants to know where you’ve been, chances are they can find out without them secretly downloading any extra apps. Your phone will tell them everything they want to know.
This isn’t news. It’s been happening right along, and you probably just didn’t notice. You see, most of the apps that come preinstalled and that you use every day already track your movements. Google does it automatically; them, you can turn off if you like and still use their stuff — though they’ll still keep track of some things, so turning it off may not accomplish much apart from giving you a false sense of privacy.
Facebook is another site that keeps track of where you go and what you do. There are privacy safeguards you can turn on, but again, that’s more for your illusory comfort than any real change in what they do. Facebook Messenger actually keeps a mineable location store that independent apps like Marauder’s Map use so you can watch/stalk your friends in real time. And they aren’t even the most egregious; they’re merely ubiquitous — and impossible to turn off so long as you continue to use their products.
The fact of the matter is, commercial entities have been tracking you right along, from Amazon to those people that let you download “free” games. They record your location, your purchases, your preferences, and anything else they can collate and sell. Advertisers pay big bucks to target just the right people for their products.
If you’re wondering if the government is using this to track you for COVID-19 infection, the answer is no — because they don’t have to. Private enterprise is doing it for them. WREX over in DeKalb did a pretty good story on this if you want more details, or you could just go straight to Unacast’s Social Distancing Scoreboard.
(If you dislike this, and think you should at least get paid for your data if people are going to sell it to the highest bidder, you’re not alone. Andrew Yang is your guy. Too bad you didn’t vote for him when you had the chance, isn’t it? -Editor)
TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
There’s a reason your news is biased: It’s because you want it to be.
People still read the Times despite their paywall, but the number of people willing to buy even one coffee on this site is pretty small. The number that share links to our articles is even smaller. We get what we pay for, people.
If you don’t like the CoffeeLink below, you might consider PayPal instead. Slightly more bang for your buck, too. No guarantees they won’t sell your info… but hey, that might get me more clicks through web searches, so it’s not all bad.