COVID-19: Where are the tracing apps?

There is a mess around tracking and tracing apps in Europe + researchers have shown they might not even work.

Welcome to the FWIW newsletter about tech, media & audio written by David Tvrdon. 🌐 Read it online and 👉 be sure to subscribe, if you were forwarded this newsletter.

In this edition

📲 How to choose a coronavirus tracking/tracing app

🗞️ Should the government help the media in the fight against the duopoly?

💬 Other news: Mary Meeker’s coronavirus trends report, why does Facebook invest $5.7 bil. in India, new Netflix subscribers, Google Shopping is free, Spotify launches curated podcast playlists, HBO Max is coming on May 27th ( $15/month)

COVID-19: Where are the tracing apps?

📷 by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I am sorry, but I have to write about the current mess of the contact tracing apps within Europe. First, Politico Europe has a deep dive into what I am about to write here. Second, for the past month, the debate has been around using Bluetooth, which is good and bad, and people cannot stress enough how unreliable the 21-old technology is. (Or if you prefer Tweets, here is a summary)

So the story goes something like this: In the beginning, there were several efforts in many EU countries. Sometime in March, a group of researchers and academics created the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) consortium with the goal of creating the technology backend which countries can use for contact tracing app development. And it would be EU-compliant (GDPR, privacy and all that stuff).

Under the PEPP-PT umbrella there were more initiatives with different approaches, but the same EU- compliance. In its announcement of the digital toolbox for fighting the coronavirus, the European Commission also mentioned PEPP-PT as one of the initiatives they are looking at.

And soon after Apple and Google announced they were working on a technology backbone that will be part of the OS, will be safe, will use Bluetooth and countries can use it to develop their contact tracing apps sooner.

After that a couple of things happened, let me give you a quick rundown:

  • Swedish researchers published a paper concluding that "the effectiveness of tracking and tracing apps on lowering the number of infected agents is limited and lower than that of random testing". They also added, more research is needed.

  • A number of researchers in the Netherlands and Belgium signed a petition to stop deploying a contact tracing app and let’s have a discussion about its merits.

  • Apple and Google said they will have the tech ready in May.

  • UK and France started developing their own apps but need Apple to lift restrictions on Bluetooth, which the company is not willing to do

  • The Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) consortium split into two camps amid trust issues and a disagreement over the architecture underpinning apps. The issue: decentralized design vs. centralized models.

  • The group behind the decentralized approach managed to publish the code (transparency) and earn more trust, it’s called DP-3T.

Many governments at the moment are preparing to make available their contact tracing apps, so there will be plenty of them to compare. Also, it will be chaos.

If you read any story, about this issue before, I am sure you have seen the number “60%” floated around in quotes. It is believed to be the threshold. As I wrote above, not by everyone.

To get some clarity, here are some of the questions you should have an answer to before installing any of these apps:

  • Who developed the app (the government or private entity)?

  • Where is the code? Is it public? Has it been vetted by a trusted source (privacy-focused NGO…)

  • Where is the data going to be stored? (centralized vs. decentralized)

    • If centralized, what are the guarantees it will be safe?

    • Who is going to have access to that data?

    • How long is the government planning to store that data?

  • Is it (app installation) going to be voluntary or mandatory?

  • Will my national app work also across border or will I need to install a new app?

There more questions I will be asking my government once they introduce a contact tracing app in Slovakia.

Anyway, if you live in Europe, the chances are, there will be an app introduced in your country soon. Take words of the EU commission for it: “Contact tracing apps, if fully compliant with EU rules and well-coordinated, can play a key role in all phases of crisis management, especially when the time will be ripe to gradually lift social distancing measures. They [contact tracing apps] can complement existing manual contact tracing and help interrupt the transmission chain of the virus.”

P.S.: And have you heard of the immunity passports?

Should the government help the media in the fight against the duopoly?

📷 by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

First France, now Australia wants tech giants to pay the news media for lost revenue. Regulatory bodies in both countries have decided Facebook a Google are to pay the media for using their content. So far we don’t know any details as those are to be decided by July.

Honestly, it’s hard to take either side of this fight.

I won’t go into much detail, just to put things in perspective. Print ads have been a way for newspapers to make money (loads of money), then came the internet and with it digital advertising by Google and later Facebook with precise ad targeting. Also meaning as an advertiser you would be paying a fair price for an audience you reach, unlike the old print ads one size fits all.

This chart from a Mary Meeker slide deck, tells it all - look at 2010 time spent vs. ad spent:

It’s hard to argue the duopoly (Facebook & Google, which controls more than 60% of ad spending) isn’t doing a great job for customers, especially compared to those print ads.

For years now big media executives have been pushing for governments to make Facebook and Google pay for using the news content.

Now France and Australia will be the first to show what happens if the media decides it’s OK to leave their future in the hands of the government. Not a great place to be when you are covering that government.

One school of thought says “move on”, you have been doing ads the wrong way, then came someone who is better, pivot, find a business model (memberships, subscriptions).

Of course, you will also find media crying that advertisers should help them survive and advertise.

Then you have initiatives like the American Journalism Project (AJP), which will give newspapers money in order to change their business model, be dependent on reader revenue, not ads.

I have been thinking of a silver lining here and came up with a model where part of the tax revenue the tech giants pay would go to an independent fund to help media with the same condition as AJP has: change your business model.

In other news


📊 Mary Meeker's coronavirus trends report. Mary Meeker, a former bank analyst known for her annual Internet Trends Report, published a 28-page report with insights into the future. Some takeaways as reported by Axios:

  • Digital transformation is accelerating, due to so many people working from home. New work-life balances are also being struck.

  • This may become the "call to arms" to better marry technology with healthcare, in terms of everything from telehealth to rapid point-of-care diagnostics, to applying automation and AI to health care services.

  • “We are optimists and believe there is hope on the other side of despair... We need government, business and entrepreneurial intervention at scale (deployed logically and effectively) to get to the other side.”

💰 Facebook invests $5.7 billion in Indian internet provider Jio. Jio Platforms is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, one of India’s biggest multinational companies and a major provider of cellular and internet services in the country. Quartz explained: Technology experts, though, worry that Jio’s broadband reach could be used by Facebook to further its “social graph,” the functionality that maps users and their relationships with other digital entities. [New York Times]

🎥 Netflix expected 8 mil. new subscribers, it added 15,8 mil. It’s more than the company has added in 2012-2014 (for the whole year). The biggest growth was seen in the EMEA region (7 mil.). Netflix now has 183 million subscribers worldwide. [Washington Post]

🛒 Google made it free for merchants to list their wares on Google Shopping. Google is coming here for Amazon, though merchants should take advantage before the big retail players flood the market. [Google]


🎧 Spotify launches curated podcast playlists. The streaming giant wants to help listeners with podcast discovery, which is something Spotify has been promising since beginning. Will see how this turns out. Three human-curated podcast playlists will launch in six countries: the US, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Mexico, and Brazil. They will be called Best Podcasts of the Week, Brain Snacks, and Crime Scene. [The Verge]

📻 Sonos launches its own streaming radio service. Sonos Radio is a new, free-to-use streaming service that’s being introduced as part of a software update rolling out today worldwide. According to the company, radio playback accounts for “nearly half” of all the time that customers spend listening to their products. [The Verge]

🍿 HBO Max is coming on May 27th, it will cost $15 a month. Subscribers will get everything that’s on HBO + a combination of old shows like FriendsBig Bang Theory, and South Park. Localized versions of HBO Max are scheduled to launch in 2021 in Latin America and the parts of Europe. []


🏠 The Home Services Subscription Economy: 2020 Report. Half of Americans have five or more subscriptions; “power-subscribers” have 11+ and spend $200 per month. []

😊 The pandemic is getting to us all. This is the review of the new iPhone SE by the Wall Street Journal, basically a narrated story.

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