Over the last week we have seen a bit of speculation on “the government being sneaky” and installing COVID-19 tracing and they almost got away with it too but they messed up by accidentally creating an outage early last week.
In reality, it didn’t happen like that.
The COVID-19 updates:
Actually announced as a joint initiative between Google and Apple to make tools that enabled developers (under appointment from their own respective government) to make contact tracing apps that are more efficient and secure. This was announced mid-April by Google and Apple so if you think this is a new thing you are simply not paying attention.
This new feature that was rolled out is only used by authorised contact tracing apps and is turned off until such an app is installed by the end user. Until then, the feature is just a programming tool like so many other features and code does nothing until called on by an authorised app.
The outage (Part 1):
Only happened in the USA as a result of what is known as a cascading failure. A US based Telco had equipment fail and as a part of a failover feature rerouted traffic over to a backup network. Unfortunately either through misconfiguration or pure bad luck the backup equipment also failed creating connectivity issues for a wide number of subscribers to that telco.
As a result, those users started reporting they had issues accessing their usual sites (Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc) via social media.
The outage (Part 2):
There is a useful site that tracks site availability called downdetector.com. A generally very reliable site but this event has exposed a flaw in the way downdetector works.
Downdetector gathers alerts by collating messages of outages over social media, not by actually testing the sites and services directly. So if there is a lot of noise on social media about a service being out it will be flagged as being unavailable regardless of its actual status.
So to address the points…
- There was an outage.
Yes but it was limited to subscribers of one telco in the USA. There is a high probability you were actually not impacted directly.
- Apple/Google installed COVID-19 tracing without our knowledge or permission.
Nope. It was installed but it was announced in mid April and it was clearly communicated. You either forgot or were not paying attention. Nothing underhanded about it.
- The government is behind it.
Really? Look at all other technology and civil works projects run by the government. How many of those were executed well? Even the iOS version of COVIDSafe was full of issues and the actual service was not in use up to a couple of weeks after launch.
What is the harm you ask?
Spreading misinformation causes unnecessary fear and concern among the community and further hampers efforts to do the right thing by the general public. Those that don’t know any better are often the ones that need to be protected by contact tracing.
Stop it. Seriously.