Inside the Failure of COVID Exposure Notifications in the U.S.

Myoung Cha, former head of health strategic initiatives for Apple and currently chief strategy officer for Carbon Health, on Twitter:

With the omicron surge, I have had more friends send me screenshots of exposure notifications (EN) in the last week than I have in the last year. Here are some reflections based on the work I led at Apple working with Google and some thoughts on the road ahead. [...]

The biggest pushback we got was why we wouldn’t allow governments around the world to use the API to collect a ton of data about users who had opted in since traditional contact tracing provided more precise insights on who had been exposed to the index case.

Our reply of course was to protect user privacy since the identity and whereabouts of all of your friends could be sucked up by a bad government actor with a more centralized design — to build a social graph of all users with the pandemic as the justification.

“Trust us, we are the government” was often the pushback. But of course, this wasn’t a theoretical concern but something that actually happened in both Singapore and Australia with systems that did not adopt our privacy-preserving approach.

The U.S. needed — and still needs — a single federal exposure notification system. Doing it state-by-state seemed all along like something that wouldn’t work, and it hasn’t. Our state borders are, by design, completely porous. That said, I’ve got iOS exposure notifications enabled, and I encourage you to, too.

Monday, 27 December 2021