Surveilled — Issue 48
A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Contact Tracing and National Sovereignty — As is obvious from previous Surveilled issues, one of the main points of contention around contact-tracing apps is the unease many feel that large tech companies like Apple and Google are making essentially political decisions on these systems, and I agree that this is indicative of their monopoly power, which is unhealthy in many ways. On the other hand, they are also the only companies with the technical know-how to build a truly private system, as a local app in North Dakota and the (mandatory) national app in Qatar illustrate.
Both apps basically leak location data and/or unique identifiers to ad tech companies or store them centrally, which is the last thing you would want in this scenario. This wasn’t necessarily built maliciously, but the imperative to put something together quickly led to errors, which then resulted in this situation. Technology has become so complex today, with so many moving parts, that this is almost inevitable, and only the big companies have the resources and skills to avoid many (certainly not all) of these mistakes.
And while this state of affairs does indeed force countries to do things a certain way where they may have preferred to do it differently, in the case of contact tracing, privacy trumps national sovereignty. The evolution of the Covid-19 apps described here shows why. Once the acute danger of the pandemic has passed, the temptation will be too great not to try and repurpose the apps for something else, thus instituting another layer of data capture and ultimately control. (Fast Company, Amnesty International, NYT)
Adoption Will Be Key — On the other hand, those contact tracing apps may face an uphill battle to attract users anyway, at least in places where their usage is not mandatory. Initial adoption rates are far below the 60% that is eventually required for the apps to work, to say nothing about all the real world resources needed to isolate and treat identified cases on the back of it. Read (The Verge)
Security Company Launches Product That Can Eavesdrop on an iPhone User’s Passcode — For this to work however, the phone needs to be physically tampered with, so beware of any confiscated devices returned to you… Read (NBC News)
Working from home is actually a boon for companies, that will enable massive cost savings. Read (Twitter)
A truthful data breach notification explainer. Read (Twitter)
That’s it for this week’s edition. As always, thanks for reading and please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested, it would be much appreciated.