Tuesday , September 22 2020

2 billion phones cannot use Google and Apple’s contact tracking technology

Industry researchers estimate that up to a billion mobile phone owners around the world cannot use the smartphone-based system proposed by Apple and Google to determine whether they have come into contact with people infected with the corona virus.

The number includes many poorer and older people, who are also among the most affected by COVID-19, and shows a “digital divide” within a system that the two technology companies have developed to reach the largest possible number of people and at the same time ensure the protection of individuals. Privacy.

Apple’s iPhones and devices running on Google’s Android operating system now make up the vast majority of the 3.5 billion smartphones that are currently actively used worldwide. This provides a huge potential infection tracking network. Surveys indicate that the idea is widely supported by the public.

The two competitors are working together to develop a contact tracking system that is expected to be released next month.

This is how contact tracking could work.
How contact tracking could work.

Ian Bott, Financial Times

However, their scheme is based on certain wireless chips and software that are missing from hundreds of millions of smartphones that are still actively used, especially those that were released more than five years ago.

“The underlying technology limitation is the fact that some phones are still in use that do not have the required Bluetooth or the latest operating system,” said Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight. “If you’re in a disadvantaged group and have an old device or phone with [basic] features, you’ll miss out on the benefits this app could potentially offer.”

Public health authorities are asked to incorporate Silicon Valley companies’ technology into their own apps, which notify people when they come into contact with an infected person and ask them to isolate themselves. The more people decide to use the app, the more successful the system will be.

According to Counterpoint Research analysts, a quarter of the smartphones that are currently in use worldwide lack the special type of low-power Bluetooth chip that detects the proximity between devices without draining the phone’s battery. Another 1.5 billion people are still using base or feature phones that don’t run iOS or Android at all.

“In total, nearly 2 billion [mobile users] worldwide will not benefit from this initiative,” said Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint. “And most of these users with incompatible devices come from the lower-income or senior segments who are actually more susceptible to the virus.”

The penetration and acceptance of certain devices by smartphones is very different worldwide. In the UK, Ofcom media agency said last year that around 80 percent of adults own a smartphone. However, Mr. Wood estimates that only about two-thirds of adults have a compatible phone.

“And that’s Britain, an extremely advanced smartphone market,” he said. “In India you could have 60-70 percent of the population, which is immediately impossible.”

Counterpoint Research is more optimistic and estimates that 88 percent compatibility exists in developed markets like the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, while about half of the people in India would have the required handset.

“The collaboration between Apple and Google to enable the use of Bluetooth technology that government agencies can use to detect and stop the virus from spreading is a step in the right direction,” said Shah.

© 2020 The Financial Times Ltd.. All rights reserved. Must not be passed on, copied or changed in any way.

About Asmaa Sims

Asmaa, who was born and raised in Pakistan, now lives in New York and works in a technology company. He also writes blog articles about technological developments.

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