October 21, 2020

Will you install an exposure notification app, and more tech news today

Will you download a COVID-19 tracing app? You might have decide very soon. Plus, MIUI 12, and more tech news today.

Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Monday, April 27. 

1. Your next decision: Exposure notification app, or no app?

Predicting a few days ahead let alone a week or two is folly, but what seems to be about to happen is that most people are going to have a phone with a COVID-19 contact tracing app on it.

That might not exactly be prophetic because it’s happening already:

  • Over the weekend, 1.5 million Australians downloaded a coronavirus contact app called COVIDSafe via Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store.
  • (Here’s a 51-page dissection on Google Docs looking into the COVIDSafe v1.0.11 (Android) build with a focus on privacy: people are allowed to use fake names, data expires as promised, Bluetooth-only proximity detection, and so on.)
  • In Europe, Germany has changed its mind on its own contact tracing app, now using the Apple-Google decentralized approach rather than a home-grown option for better privacy, joining Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Finland. Germany’s shift came after pressure from scientists, but in Norway, pressure hasn’t yet forced the government to stop pushing ahead with a controversial centralized implementation called Smittestopp.
  • In the US, it’s hard to know if it will be a state-by-state option (North and South Dakota, and Utah are already pioneering apps) while there’s talk that dubious Palantir will be involved at Federal level.

The tech:

  • The technology discussion is always worth having. One interesting shift is that the Apple-Google tech has had a name change, moving from contact tracing to “exposure notificationâ€� late last week.
  • That’s because it doesn’t really offer tracing, per se, but alerts.
  • The tech is also changing, per Android Authority: “Exposure notification will feature an updated API to randomly generate tracing keys, Bluetooth metadata now features updated end-to-end encryption, and the recorded exposure time is limited to five-minute intervals maxing out at 30-minute increments. Together, these changes promise user anonymity while maintaining the technology’s effectiveness.â€�
  • Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes left a supportive comment regarding the Australian app on Hacker News: “When asked by non-technical people “Should I install this app? Is my data / privacy safe? Is it true it doesn’t track my location?â€� – say “Yesâ€� and help them understand. Fight the misinformation. Remind them how little time they think before they download dozens of free, adware crap games that are likely far worse for their data & privacy than this ever would be!â€�
  • And that brings up an important silver lining: people are more widely understanding their privacy rights, and data security.

Now, having said all that, the real question for most people that you’re going to have to think about is, will you voluntarily install an exposure notification/contact tracing app?

  • Will you do it in a vacuum or be guided by those-that-probably-know-more? (For many in Australia, that includes Troy Hunt, behind haveibeenpwned, who calmly explains his rationale for installing the Australian app.)
  • I wasn’t sure where the buck might fall on this: Early signs are it is falling to tech-savvy people to embrace it, while non-technical people are distrusting and or mixing the app’s purpose with distrust of government generally.
  • But in Norway, the opposite is true as the app is said to track your GPS position and store data in a centralized cloud database.
  • For me, assuming there is sufficient evidence that the app only does what is intended, for example, doesn’t request geolocation, doesn’t obfuscate its code to allow for reverse-engineering (and/or open sources the codebase), and so on, I’m going to install it.
  • And it’s far better than governments simply tracking phones, as has now been banned in Israel (Engadget).
  • Will it help? Is it the new reality not just for COVID-19 but other diseases and viruses? Is it the beginning or end-point for government-related health apps? Which governments and tech companies will boost their reputations through smart, smooth implementations, which will stumble?
  • You’ll probably need to make your personal decision on using an app within a few weeks if you haven’t already.
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2. Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 has launched with a major visual redesign, Dark Mode 2.0, better privacy, and more (Android Authority).


3. Huawei MatePad Pro review: Top-tier Android tablet suffers from a giant pain in the apps  (Android Authority).


6. iFixit: You can use some iPhone 8 parts inside an iPhone SE (Engadget).


7. AMD vs Intel 2020: Who makes the best CPUs? New testing decides “AMD wins the CPU war overall right now, but depending on your needs, an Intel processor could still be the better choice� In desktop CPUs, not laptops or servers. (Tom’s Hardware).


8. One of the Apple Watch’s original designers tweeted a behind-the-scenes look at its development (The Verge).


9. A year after launch: Luminary wanted to become the Netflix of podcasts, but just hasn’t found traction yet, as it lowers prices. Podcast episodes that normally get more than 100,000 downloads got less than 50 from Luminary (Bloomberg).


10. One of the better explainers on why Silicon Valley investors raved about Magic Leap, and why it cratered: Magic Leap’s $2.6 billion bait and switch (TechCrunch).


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