‘Covid-19 exposure notifications’ on smartphone? Keep calm: no one forces you to download the Immuni app

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The tracking app immune it is now generating constant criticism, institutional discontent and sometimes justified and sometimes not alarms. Let’s try to tidy up.

First of all, the project evidently got off to a bad start, with to say the least hasty reliance on Bending Spoons and following wavy directions in European models of contact tracing (PEPP-PT and DP-3T) not even well defined. This left room for several methodological doubts, but also generated fears dictated by the emotion of the moment.

For example, I refer to the message that many have received on your device with Android or iOS operating system that informs us about the activation of “Covid-19 exposure notifications”.

Google and Apple inform us that our devices have received an update and they are ready to interface with an application (in our Immune Country) who will be able to develop a system of contact tracing based on bluetooth low energy technology which – when certain necessary conditions are met – could be useful in the fight against the virus. I do not dwell on the technological aspects because it has been widely discussed. But I will limit myself to making some reflections on the matter.

Google and Apple have only warned us that our smartphones are technically ready to adopt the Immuni solution which, when available, will be downloadable voluntarily by all of us citizens. No alarm therefore on this process of information transparency towards users.

The problems instead are other.

For the app to work there is a need for a large percentage of use (at least 60% of citizens who do not just download it, but use it consciously according to an in-depth study by Oxford researchers), and which is combined with a widespread and reliable system of positivity check.

If the first condition is very difficult to reach – so much so that the minister first Paola Pisano hastened to claim that the app would be effective already with a 25-30% percentage of use and then Google itself reported rather arbitrarily that an even lower percentage of 10-20% is sufficient – the second assumption really appears a mirage, in a country where it is difficult to find masks, let alone swabs for everyone. Twists on truly incredible scientific data these and that let us imagine next messages in which we will be informed that IMMUNI will be very useful also and above all if … nobody will download it!

And actually the latter scenario would be desirable for two reasons.

The choices of Italy (and not only) on contact tracing they reveal with some evidence that we are dealing with international players who are able to manage entire national economies and now also dictate political choices regarding our future. The Italian state – let’s face it – was actually not very free to choose whether to develop Immunes without interfacing with the API made available by Google and Apple so that he could take advantage of low cost Bluetooth technology for proximity tracking. And it makes us think about the prompt and reassuring information that has just arrived on our smartphone when it is specified in the same that, although necessary for activation, GPS technology will never be used for exposure notifications and that our personal data are safe in any case. What received by Google has all the flavor of a excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta.

After all, we are more and more accustomed to being mapped in every little detail of our existence and increasingly “proximity” marketing is infiltrating in an often subtle and unaware way, from the choice of cat food to that of the most suitable medicine for the disease that we have just discovered to have, whose diagnosis has perhaps been filed “reliably” in the healthcare system controlled by the shift big data player. It is a bit like relying on the solemn declaration of a particularly greedy child who swears and perjusts that he will not touch any sweets when he is left alone and undisturbed in a pastry shop.

Our data make a point and constitute the oil of the society in which we live, moreover.

But the problem is not only this, it is even more subtle. The entire tracking system is based on one technology, the bluetooth, which the Ministry of Defense itself indicates to us as unsafe and possible object of attacks, much to advise us to disable it whenever possible. With Immuni we should always keep it active. And we know little about the safety, quality, reliability and integrity of these data. Let us remember that only truthful data, managed by a verified platform in terms of IT security, can make us at least theoretically peaceful, even regardless of the alleged utility of this application. And we, compared to many other foreign partners, have entrusted the implementation to one, albeit respectable, game development company and not to a recognized research center.

Imagine what could happen if on the centralized Immuni server, in the hands of Sogei, inaccurate data arrived, then managed to warn Italian citizens. A country would freeze again generating uncontrolled panic, no longer abusing the lockdown.

Under these conditions, I recommend not downloading the app. Fortunately, the virus would seem to be undergoing spontaneous regression.

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