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MIT building system that could let people with cell phones find out if they've been near any people with coronavirus

A team of MIT researchers is working on a system through which people's phones would send out a constant stream of Bluetooth "chirps" that would then be picked up and stored by other people's phones. Somebody who tests positive for coronavirus could then upload his or her chirps to a database that others could then check to see if they were close enough to that person to warrant their own trip to testing site or to self quarantine.

Bluetooth is designed for only short distances, such as, oh, six feet.

"I keep track of what I’ve broadcasted, and you keep track of what you’ve heard, and this will allow us to tell if someone was in close proximity to an infected person," says Ron Rivest, MIT Institute Professor and principal investigator of the project. “But for these broadcasts, we’re using cryptographic techniques to generate random, rotating numbers that are not just anonymous, but pseudonymous, constantly changing their 'ID,' and that can’t be traced back to an individual."

And, yes, one of the things they figure out how to do was to have Android and Apple phones communicate their chirps.

Rivest is one of the RSA encryption algorithm.

Last week, Gov. Baker announced a more traditional method for such "contact tracing" - a system in which people who test positive are called to try to track down anybody they might have come into contact with so that they can then be called to be, at the least, urged to self quarantine for two weeks.

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Comments

Well
eee
an.

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Voting closed 23

it looks like you opt in as a carrier. Or Well enters if you are compelled.

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But way too easy to create mayhem by reporting phantom cases.

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If anyone who wanted to could tag themselves (anonymously) as being infected, it would be a troll magnet, and a small handful of unspeakable assholes could make the whole thing unworkable. However according to the linked article, you wouldn't be able to just declare yourself as infected.

After a positive diagnosis, a person would receive a QR code from a health official. By scanning the code through that app, that person can upload their log to the cloud.

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at least based on the description posted here. It sounds like a good effort is being made to make it *not* centrally tracked, and to give privacy in other ways as well.

Would you rather they help your phone company hand over the data it already compiles on your phone's every move?

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teen
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tee
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Most people who bang the hell out of the "Orwellian!!!111!!!1" drum 50 times a day have never read his work to begin with, don't realize that he was a leftist, and don't read any other books either. Get a new drum to bang. Or read a fucking book.

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Zamyatin's We was a critique on communism...animal farm....oh and brave new world...Your point?

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Considering my phone already listens to what im saying and auto-fills search bars so often that I sometimes question my own sanity;

I think I'll pass on this app, roll the dice, and just stay home for a few more months.

Thanks though.

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... would just send my paranoia into high gear.

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because so damn many people have it, and we can't test everyone who needs it yet. But something like this (along with contact tracing) will be *necessary* in getting out of lockdown before a vaccine is ready.

And it's a hell of a lot better than other technological alternatives. Some countries are just tracking every person's movements via their phone and requiring people to keep their phones on them as a sort of "electronic fence". This approach, in contrast, is trying to preserve privacy.

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This is testing better tracking software for everybody in the long term. Dont do it.

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If we could do this Invasion of the Body Snatchers style.

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needs someone with knowledge of human psychology. Badly.

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Why would someone who had tested positive but then went into the outside world anyways (thus exposing others) be willing to use this on their phones?

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I agree, and it seems like it's giving the false impression that's it OK to test positive and then roam around. Or am I misunderstanding how this would work?

And how does this get turned off once someone is no longer positive? As another commenter said, we don't have nearly enough testing yet; testing for non-healthcare workers after an infection seems like it would be low on the list. And then requires an action to turn it off.

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Voting closed 5

You install it, and your phone starts sending mini-Bluetooth messages (called "chirps" in the article) to other phones in range that have the app installed, and logging chirps it receives. The range of Bluetooth is small, similar to that of COVID-19 (a useful coincidence), so anyone close enough to communicate with is (nearly) close enough to infect you, or be infected by you. There's no location tracking; in fact it doesn't use GPS at all.

It you are infected, and register your QC code, your (earlier) chirps are tagged in a central database. Other users can compare their logs (via the app) to this database and determine if they've received any chirps from infected persons, and are thus at risk.

A lot of the comments here seem to think that the people who designed this are:

a. Completely oblivious to all privacy concerns; and/or
b. Complete morons who know nothing about human behavior

Neither of these conclusions are justified. The people who are working on this are privacy-obsessed; several of them have dedicated most of their careers to it. And they seem to have put a fair amount of thought into designing a system that provides mutual benefits to its participants at minimal cost.

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Voting closed 17

Bluetooth is absolutely used to track location, only on a micro level. Retail stores like grocery stores and pharmacies use the Bluetooth beacons to track your movement through the entire store. They track what aisles you go down, what path you took, where you stopped. This is not new. If you are truly concerned about privacy you should disable Bluetooth on your phone.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/14/opinion/bluetooth-wireles...

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I rarely use it for anything, so why keep it on?

Same with Location -- when I need it, I turn it on, but most of the time it's off.

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That's because you don't have a car.

Almost everyone who drives uses Bluetooth to take calls in the car. And it's much easier to leave it on, instead of forgetting to turn it on and off.

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isn't just dangerous, but also a privacy risk!

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I would probably turn it on again for the next few months, given how little I'd even be *in* stores.

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Bluetooth can be used for local tracking if you have an app installed (and running in the background) that is designed to track you, and local Bluetooth beacons that are cooperating with that app. This isn't an example of that.

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It's not applicable in the MIT tracking case, but bluetooth on your phone constantly sends out pings to find other devices, so stores use that to receive your phone's pings and identify the device and follow the pings as they hit beacons throughout the property. No software required. If your BT is enabled, you can be tracked.

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As soon as reliable, reasonably easy self-tests for COVID-19 disease exposure and antibodies to SARS-COV-2 virus are available

We need to get people to test and have a way to demonstrate their status

Instead of everyone wearing a mask or looking like they plan to hold-up the nearest liquor store or Market Basket -- the people who've had the disease and are now clear should be able to begin to go about normally

The other people who haven't yet been infected, especially those whose age and/or underlying conditions make them especially vulnerable to bad COVID-19 outcomes -- need a way to be able to tell what is the state of the individual whom they encounter

One approach would be a badge which people could wear when they were out and about such as shopping or working on a construction project displaying their status

This is similar to a meeting interaction device developed as a demonstration by Project Oxygen [under led by the late Prof. Michael Dertouzos of MIT about 20 years ago]. On approach -- The Project Oxygen badges would light-up both on the person you were approaching and on you based on each person's status [randomly assigned by the system when you badged-up] -- to let you know about the person you were approaching and for them to know about your "status." This was just done to demonstrate tools for social networking. However -- now such a badge could be programmed at the time that an individual took the test that proved they were carrying the antibody and hence would not be infectious to another.

Another approach is the new MIT Bluetooth and Cel phone approach with a beep letting you know that you were approaching someone of indeterminate or unknown status and vice versa.

Obviously -- there is a dilemma between maximum knowledge to protect the public at large, and to maximize the protection of each individual's privacy.

However -- a successfully implemented system -- would move us a whole lot closer to returning to the kind of social environment -- Pre-COVID-19

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Why don't they just put a red "C" on their clothing?

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Much better to stay home. I’m talking about those who have not business in being outside and that represents a lot of people a lot.

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the ones they know about and have recovered! Geeze lets start labeling my kind!

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I'd rather wait inside and not go out till there's a vaccine than have my civil liberties massively violated. I think most people would agree.

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