Sensor could help smartphones detect COVID-19; health officials say Apple and Google technology is “useless”

Another day, another wave of news about the pandemic of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19). Are we going to them, then?

Sensor integrated with smartphones

What would you think of sneezing on your iPhone (or any other smartphone) to do an instant test for the COVID-19? Strange as it sounds, a sensor of this type could save many lives – and this is exactly the project of the team led by the professor Massood Tabib-Azar, from the University of Utah (United States). The information is Subway.

About a year ago, Tabib-Azar and his team started developing the sensor – which was originally thought to detect the presence of the Zika virus. With the start of the new Coronavirus pandemic, the device’s technology began to be adapted to test users for COVID-19; so far, the results are promising.

The sensor, the size of a coin, communicates via Bluetooth with your smartphone – just connect it to the charging port of the device (to supply power to the accessory) and open the application developed by the scientists, depositing a particle of saliva or nasal mucus on its surface. In about a minute, the app displays the result of the “instant scan”.

Sensor connected to smartphones to test COVID-19

Sensor prototype developed by the Tabib-Azar team

The detection of COVID-19 works by searching for proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2 – if these proteins are present in the user’s saliva or mucosa, an electrical resistance is generated, which then indicates the presence of the virus. The best part is that the sensor is reusable: after the examination, it generates a small electric current that destroys the sample and allows it to be used daily (by several people, including).

According to Tabib-Azar, the sensor will be ready for testing as early as July – and, if the results are positive, it may start to be sold in August next. The idea is that, if all goes well, the technology will be integrated into the health services of the countries to detect possible pockets of COVID-19 and more accurate infection rates.

Therefore, it is cheering for everything to be all right.

Health professionals criticize technology from Apple and Google

We have already brought here several criticisms to the COVID-19 tracking technology developed by Apple and Google – criticisms that come from two basically opposite sides: both from the point of view of privacy and from the perspective of effectiveness. Since last week, more groups have spoken out on the topic.

Apple interface example for the COVID-19 notification framework

Apple interface example for COVID-19 notification

To Washington Post, health officials in several countries said Apple and Google’s tracking technology would be “basically useless” if it didn’t undergo drastic changes. Officials say that without the collection of location data from users and without immediate notification to health authorities about the places of contact, few practical combat measures can be implemented.

The report heard health officials from American states as North Dakota and California, in addition to British and Canadian organizations. All groups said they had asked Apple and Google for greater control over the data captured by smartphones – requests, as we have already commented, repeatedly denied by companies, which cited concerns about users’ privacy if more in-depth collections were allowed.

Helen Nissenbaum, professor of Information Science at Cornell University, classified the technology as a “flashy smokescreen”, highlighting the irony of “two companies that, for years, tolerated the mass collection of people’s data” but now would be preventing it for a “public health critical” purpose. Nissenbaum stated the following:

If the question is about Google and Apple having the data, I would certainly prefer that my doctor and public health officials have that data about my health. At least they are limited by law.

Already Matt Stoller, director of research at American Economic Liberties Project, said that it is not up to Apple and Google to make unilateral decisions on issues relevant to health around the world:

They are practicing sovereign power. It’s crazy. Apple and Google have decided around the world that this is not a choice that should be made by the people. You have a private “government” that is making choices about society, instead of having democratic governments making those choices.

Because of the alleged limitations of the Apple and Google system, some sites are considering ignoring the tracking tool and adopting other combat strategies. California is one example: epidemiologists in the home state of the tech giants said the best approach, at the moment, is to train health officials to reduce contagion rates rather than relying on smartphone notifications.

Despite the pertinent criticisms, the report of the Washington Post was not well received by the technological community: Daring Fireball, John Gruber he classified the article as the “worst” he had ever read in the newspaper, characterizing it as partial, uninformed and in need of retraction by the vehicle.

Gruber stated that the contact notification system, even without capturing location, is already useful in itself; the journalist said that the requests of the officers heard by the report had no “concern for privacy” from users. He pointed out errors in Helen Nissenbaun’s statement, noting that user data is not stored by Apple and Google – they are stored locally on users’ smartphones and can be shared with health officials if the person agrees to do so.

Gruber’s full post also brings, almost paragraph by paragraph, a deconstruction of the arguments brought by the sources of the Washington Post – it is worthwhile, therefore, to read both articles and draw your own conclusions.

Apple stores start reopening in Canada

Finally, controversies aside, the MacRumors detailed the information that Apple started reopening its stores in the Canada, following the country’s gradual reopening process. Eight stores have reopened today:

Apple Chinook CenterApple Chinook Center

The four Apple stores in Alberta will reopen tomorrow (5/21):

Stores, as usual around the world, will operate at reduced hours and with a focus on repair and support services; there will be measures to reduce the number of people in the spaces, as well as an obligation to use masks – Apple will supply units to customers who do not have one, inclusive.

For now, Apple stores in Ontario is at Quebec remain closed, with no provision for reopening.

via AppleInsider [1, 2]