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The Adoption rate of the Apple-Google COVID-19 tracker feature in Nigeria

Izunna Okpala

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The COVID-19 exposure tracker has recently been rolled out by Google and Apple on every Android and iOS device globally. According to the notice released in May, this was done in an effort to fight the spread of the virus through contact tracing — a technique used to stay aware of exposure to an infected person.

When enabled, the feature allows your Smartphone to receive notification of likely COVID-19 exposure.

However, there is a disclaimer that the software is an API that can only be enabled when the device has installed a third party tracking app.

According to the statement, the feature will remain dormant until it is activated by a COVID-19 contact tracing app, which can be deactivated at any time.

COVID-19 Exposure Notification feature cannot be activated without an installed contact tracing app

Google and Apple therefore say that the devices won’t be theirs thus saying that the identity of the user won’t be shared with other users.

To ensure this, Google announced that “Access to technology will only be provided to public-health users. Their applications must meet strict Privacy, Protection and Data Use requirements.”

Still, app creators should be committed to minimise the vulnerabilities of their products.

On Android phones, the feature can be found in ‘Google‘ under ‘Settings‘ where ‘COVID-19 exposure notification‘ is displayed. For Apple devices, ‘COVID-19 exposure logging‘ is found under ‘Health‘ in ‘Privacy settings‘.

Apple-Google COVID-19 Exposure Notification feature

By design, this technology is meant to support the efforts of governments and private players that are building contact tracing apps. When an app is used to opt in, it generates randomly changing IDs based on location. Through Bluetooth, it periodically checks other IDs to confirm if any is associated with the infection. And if it finds any, it sends a notification.

For this to work, a person who is affected or has been exposed to the infection needs to share their IDs with the app, which will immediately alert all that have come in contact with them.

While countries like India make contact tracing apps compulsory for residents, only a few startups have made an attempt at this technology in Nigeria; this explains why adoption is low.

In fact, on the Google Playstore, there’s currently no authorised contact tracing app available in the country currently. Conversely, on the Apple app store, it shows two apps, one of which has already been disabled.

Despite some countries already putting the pandemic behind them, infection cases are unfortunately still increasing across Nigeria. Currently, the figure stands at 25,694, with Lagos state  — 10,510 confirmed cases — still the epicentre.

As economic activities resume fully in states that were previously on mandatory lockdown, this appears to be the time for the adoption of massive contact tracing tools to reduce citizens’ chances of infection.

Recall that before now the use of smartphone tracking and surveillance for COVID-19 tracing have been adopted across the world in China, Hong Kong, Israel, and even in Rwanda.

But there are concerns that this feature has privacy risks, disproving Google and Apple’s promise. Considering past events, this scepticism is not misplaced.

Google, like other tech giants, has at some point been accused of turning user data into narrowly targeted ads without consent. This is often possible because users are usually unaware of the data they are agreeing to share and the company’s plan for the information.

While these privacy concerns remain, we cannot undermine the possible positive impact of the tools this Apple-Google feature will effectively support. Perhaps, it is a case of choosing the lesser evil.

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Twitter shifts the balance of power from companies to employees

Izunna Okpala

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Last week, a conflict that extended through Instagram, Twitter, and the upstart social network Clubhouse transfixed the worlds of technology and journalism. One reason it created so much interest — you can read detailed accounts from various perspectives at Vice, on Quora, or this venture capitalist’s Substack — is that you can approach the drama from so many angles. But despite the best efforts of everyone, the most clarifying way to understand the story of Steph Korey, Taylor Lorenz, Balaji Srinivasan, venture capital, and Clubhouse has mostly gone unspoken. And those who fail to see it, could be in for a rude awakening.

Journalists and their supporters rallied to Lorenz ‘s side — no journalist deserves attacks or threats. Many investors and those sympathetic to the threads of Srinivasan ‘s anti-journalism joined in the shout. From a distance, it seemed like little more than the latest salvo in a conflict between journalists and Silicon Valley that has escalated significantly this year.

But what if you take the whole discussion of “tech versus journalism” and reframe it as “managers versus employees”? Then, you get closer to the truth of what’s going on.

After all, this conflict started with employees. They were the people who initially described their working conditions under Korey at Away, leading her to step aside as CEO. (She later returned, only for the company to say she would step aside later this year after her comments about the media on Instagram.)

The employees made their comments at a time of increasing activism inside workplaces. Since the Google walkout in 2018, employees of venture-backed startups and public companies have become increasingly comfortable in speaking out — often using social media platforms to call out their employers. This trend has only accelerated since the Black Lives Matters protests swept the nation last month — which, among other things, led to the first-ever virtual Facebook walkout a few weeks later.

Until recently it was relatively unusual for employees to contact journalists directly with complaints about their workplaces — much less broadcast them on Twitter with no warning. But the Google walkout — which took place as much on Twitter as it did outside the company’s offices — showed workers that their stories would find a sympathetic audience on social networks.

Workers still face significant obstacles as they lobby to create more fair and equitable workplaces. But Twitter in particular has given them a place where not only can they be heard, but — crucially — employers can’t really fight back. If you tweet that you hate your manager, your manager is almost certainly not going to tweet back at you. (They can fire you, and say that it’s for unrelated reasons, and in fact they do this. But this often leads to more tweets about how bad the manager is, which means mostly they do nothing immediately.) Thus tweets have given workers an asymmetric advantage in the unrest — a one-sided argument is easy to win — and we’re seeing it play out in new ways all the time.

This dynamic, which is tilted heavily against bosses, goes a long way in explaining the disdain that the managerial class has for what they call “hit pieces.” A “hit piece,” in angry Twitter parlance, is typically a piece of journalism in which one or more employees are granted anonymity to talk about their working conditions. Journalists, myself included, would simply call that reporting. But it’s the kind of reporting that tilts the balance away from managers and toward their employees — and in ways that are difficult to fight back against.

It’s true that this dynamic raises questions of fairness. Not every person who hates their boss has been mistreated.

And yet, does anyone doubt that over the past 20 years, we’ve heard fewer accounts of the inner workings of big venture-backed companies than we would have liked to have? The inequalities that we have heard so much about in recent years took decades to build up, and during that time it has been relatively rare for a journalist to hear from employees directly on the subject. Instead for the most part they were funneled to a public relations person, whose job was primarily to contain any damage to the company.

It shouldn’t be surprising, when a prominent reporter like Lorenz calls attention to posts like Korey’s, the managerial class rises to Korey’s defense. When CEOs can be held accountable not just for their working conditions but for social media defenses of their work, that represents a threat to the entire managerial tribe. And that explains how venture capitalists, who have millions of dollars at their disposal and could comfortably retire without ever participating in a single Twitter fight, have nonetheless come to see themselves as the underdogs in this situation. They got where they are in part because they’ve been good at winning arguments, and now they find themselves living in a world where they get punished for arguing.

The next time you see journalists and tech overlords going a few rounds online, ask yourself whether what you’re looking at isn’t, on some level, a labor issue. Journalists have lately been part of this story more than they are usually comfortable with. But I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is primarily about us.

It might not be visible from the luxury Airbnbs where tech executives are riding out the pandemic, but there is a resurgent labor movement in this country. The pandemic has made clear that many of our most essential workers are also among the lowest paid — and even for the most comfortable, it’s clear that during a time of crisis neither their company nor the US government will fully protect them from disaster.

You can attribute it to the pandemic, the recession, police brutality, racism, or any number of other crises — but the result is a fire tornado of outrage that is sweeping across the country. Any number of industries are getting caught up in it, and many managers are finding themselves suddenly without jobs as a result. (It is probably not a coincidence that this is most true of the media industry, whose workers are more adept at using Twitter to air their grievances than most.)

Workers are justifiably outraged about the state of affairs in this country, and some of that outrage is being captured by journalists. I find it darkly comic that so many CEOs and tech world Twitter pundits, who never stop congratulating themselves for thinking deep thoughts, are committing the folly that goes back to Plutarch: getting some bad news, and then taking it out on the person who brought it to them.

If pundits succeeds in shooting all the messengers, what else will they fail to understand before it’s too late?

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Coronavirus: The Covid Tracker software from Ireland is out

Izunna Okpala

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Ireland’s just-released contact-tracing app this morning, where it joined Germany’s Corona Warn-App, which was released three weeks ago.

Gibraltar recently released its Beat Covid Gibraltar app, based on the Irish code.

The Republic’s Covid Tracker software is also the foundation of an app. Northern Ireland is promising to release within weeks. And now there’s a hint Wales could go the same way.

The focus henceforth would be on building a “decentralised” app with the toolkit offered by Apple and Google, which is also being used by Germany and Ireland among a growing list of others.

On Monday, Baroness Harding gave evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee alongside Simon Thompson, the Ocado executive she drafted in to take responsibility for the app.

Mr Thompson started by saying how urgent it was to get the job done. He went on to stress that collaboration with other countries and with Google and Apple meant that “we have growing confidence that we will have a product that will be good, so that the citizens can trust it in terms of its basic functionality”.

Bluetooth doubts

Now it is true that there is very little evidence that Bluetooth-based apps have so far been successful in tracking down people who came close to someone diagnosed with the virus.

People who point to the success of countries like South Korea ignore the fact that its efforts have been based not on Bluetooth but on the use of mass surveillance data, which would almost certainly prove unacceptable here.

Scientists at Trinity College in Dublin who advised the Irish app development team have produced a number of studies showing Bluetooth can be a very unreliable way to log contacts.

After tests on a bus they warned “the signal strength can be higher between phones that are far apart than phones close together, making reliable proximity detection based on signal strength hard or perhaps even impossible”.

‘Good enough’

Germany has celebrated the fact that in three weeks its app has been downloaded by 15 million people out of a population of 83 million. But there is little or no information about whether it is performing well in its core mission of contact tracing.

Then again, countries like Germany, Ireland and Switzerland have taken the view that an app does not have to be technically perfect, and that if there is any chance of it making even a small contribution to the battle against the virus, it’s worth a go.

Countries like Germany might be tempted to point out that they have had that “cake” in the form of an effective manual tracing programme all along. Incidentally, if public trust is vital to the app’s rollout, the people of the Isle of Wight may have something to say about that.

Following the trial of the original, scrapped NHSX app on the island, some residents have been asking what will happen to their data. We’ve asked too – and have yet to receive an answer.

While the Covid Tracker app has been launched by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland, people living across the border in Northern Ireland are able to download it and use it.

Its terms and conditions state that it is intended to be used by anyone living in or visiting the island of Ireland.

They also state that its availability for people living or visiting in Northern Ireland “is intended to help us to inform people living in border areas and to trace cases in those areas”.

Anyone using the app in NI is able to activate the contact tracing facility and can also self-report symptoms using the “Covid Check-In section”.

However, in the section which asks users to enter personal details, including gender and age-range, those living in Northern Ireland can’t add their county of residence. Only counties in the Republic of Ireland are listed – not the six in NI.

It isn’t yet clear what impact this has on the functionality of the app for NI users.

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