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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Smartphone Users Worried Over Contact Tracing Technology

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By Tokunbo-Peters Oluwaseun

Coronavirus has continued to be a thorn in the side of everyone in the world, it has destroyed businesses, put people out of jobs and worse, it has taken lives. Over 9 million people have been infected around the world and about 465,000 people have died from Coronavirus complications. Many experts have boldly said that the number of people that have been confirmed positive is only a fraction of the actual number.

In Nigeria, confirmed cases of coronavirus have skyrocketed since the relaxation of lockdown measures.

Experts have sought for measures to contain the virus as movements begin to get back to normal and Contact tracing apps have been touted by tech experts as such measures.

Recently, Apple and Google developed an application programming interface (API) that will enable exposure notifications to work. This simply means that Google with the assistance of apple has added a framework to the operating system of all smartphones which will allow any app that deals with Covid-19 contact tracing to work.

The two Tech giants had announced a few months back they’re collaboration to help the world track exposure to the coronavirus using Bluetooth technology.

MoneyCentral spoke with the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Olusola Teniola on how the technology works. Among other things he told us that there have been updates integrated in smartphones “by both Google and Apple, already the firmware is loaded on smartphones, this firmware is used to access the Bluetooth functionality and the Wi-Fi functionality within your phone and to also offer access to other technologies Google and Apple would like to use on their servers.

“The applications that would utilize this technology are available in Denmark, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, US and in Nigeria.” He added.

Mr Teniola, However, pointed out that the range of contact tracing is limited due to the fact that not enough people use smartphones in Africa.

“There is an assumption that everyone owns a smartphone, that is not the case. In the case of Nigeria and other parts of Africa, most people own a feature phone or a basic 2G phone so there is no way that this Covid contact tracing API is present on their phones and there may be instances of the carrier of that phone having Covid.” He said

Besides the issue of coverage, the update has caused outrage on social media with people lamenting that the contact-tracing apps could be turned into a “tool of abuse”.

Most of the people approached by our correspondent were angered at the idea of an application or API that has the capacity to access sensitive information about its users. They wailed that it was a complete breach of privacy

MoneyCentral with one Tijani Oluwadara who was outraged at the fact that such feature was added to his device without his explicit consent

“I don’t care if it hasn’t accessed my data (yet). I care that it’s on my phone and I didn’t put it there.” He said

He feared that tech companies would use the feature to access and monetize his data without his explicit approval.

A US Attorney General, Dana Nessel warned that the technology must be used diligently across the world in order to avoid breaking privacy laws.

“Technology can provide valuable resources like digital contact tracing and enhance our understanding of this deadly virus, but that tool must be wielded appropriately so it does not infringe upon the privacy of its users.” She said

Mr Teniola acknowledged that there is an ongoing outrage regarding privacy. He, therefore revealed that the feature is not compulsory. He added that the update allows the users to turn off the settings of the contact tracing technology if that is what the user prefers.

“The issue is around privacy, if I am a user of a smartphone and decide not to switch on the functionalities that you have downloaded on my phone there is no way that you can analyse anything that has to do with contact tracing because it is not enabled.” he said.

However, he insisted that Nigerians welcome this new age of contact tracing because it is the new normal, he asserted that some form of technology is needed now more than ever to assist health agencies win the fight against the dreaded coronavirus pandemic and future pandemics that could occur

“The fact is that we need some form of technology that can help develop a vaccine for the virus, understand how the spread of the virus is actually being addressed (knowing that you have covid-19 and how to recover from it) and for future issues around future pandemics that could occur,

“So there is an area of data collation that is very important to technology and data is the underlying reason for doing this so if there are people who are concerned, think about your children’s children, think about the issues we are going through and how can we help them solve future pandemics, think of it from a reason to help assist those health workers from not even getting the virus from Covid-hotspots.

“In our society we view corona as a life sentence, a life sentence that even if you recover, if people find out that you’ve had covid-19 there is a stigma to it. So it is a cultural reality. We cannot change human beings, we are emotional and I think that certain technologies that are introduced, whether successful or not will be lessons for the future so that we’ll know how to address this very complex and sensitive issues around health.”


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