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Apple and Google change coronavirus contact tracing after privacy pushback

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Apple and Google’s coronavirus contact tracing system is getting some pre-launch tweaks, with the iOS and Android makers responding to privacy concerns about the new healthcare tool. Announced earlier this month, the collaboration will COVID-19 apps to trace back possible community spread incidents using anonymized Bluetooth logging.

It aims to address one of the most challenging aspects of the current coronavirus pandemic, figuring out just who might have transmitted it to other people. Scientists believe that COVID-19 has a roughly 48 hour period before any symptoms might manifest but during which those infected are contagious to others. More concerning still, a percentage of those people infected are completely asymptomatic: that is, they don’t show any signs of the virus, but are still contagious all the same.

Contact tracing aims to step back through an individual’s movements, and track who they might have come into contact with and – if they later have a positive coronavirus diagnosis – inform those people that they may need to be tested. Google and Apple’s idea was to use a new API for Bluetooth, that would create ongoing logs on users’ phones that stored who they’d been near over the past fourteen days. Should they later come up positive on a COVID-19 test, that information could be used to unlock the tracing data and automatically alert others in that log about the potential risk.

Unsurprisingly, privacy was a key concern in developing the system, and Apple and Google were upfront in the ways in which they were trying to secure individual data. Nonetheless there has been feedback since the preliminary approach was revealed, and today they’ve confirmed a number of tweaks and adjustments.

For example, Bluetooth metadata will be encrypted now, keeping factors like phone type and Bluetooth signal strength secure just like the proximity data. The numbers identifying users will be randomly generated, new each day, rather than generating the key from another number linked to the phone.

The API will also now share the strength of a Bluetooth signal, and allow the creators of apps that tap into it – which will still be limited to organizations like government health agencies, and not general developers – to decide what is considered sufficiently close to be counted as a positive contact. That should avoid things like false-positives, should Bluetooth signals be strong enough to pass through a wall, for instance.

The data actually shared will now break down the total time of contact between 5 and 30 minutes, in 5 minute intervals. There’ll also be data about how long it had been since contact with an infected person took place. That’s intended to prevent exposure time being used to identify who a contact might be. Finally, the name is changing: it’ll be known as “exposure notification” [pdf link] rather than “contact tracing” from now on.

Google and Apple intend to launch the system in its first iteration next month, though it’ll be down to governments and other agencies to actually build the contact tracing apps and encourage users to install them. A later iteration planned will integrate it into the underlying OS, whether iOS or Android, so that the separate app isn’t necessarily required.

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The First Tesla Semi Has Been Delivered After Lengthy Delays

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There had long been suggestion Pepsi would be one of Tesla’s biggest customers — with a subsidiary spotted installing charging stations at one of its plants and test driving the trucks earlier this year. Tesla also placed an order for 100 of the high tech trucks shortly after they were announced in 2017. In October, Musk confirmed the company’s first truck was almost ready for delivery, and it would be going to the soft drink manufacturer.

Today, Tesla finally made it official and delivered its first production semis to Pepsi. Speaking at the handover, which took place at a Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, Musk described his motivation for designing the truck. The Tesla CEO claims that trucks make up less than 1% of vehicles in the United States, but are responsible for a large chunk of emissions. Musk said it will both help the environment and improve the health of individuals living near highways. At the end of the presentation, Musk thanked Pepsico and described them as a “great partner.” 

The trucks’ keycards were then handed over to Pepsi’s representatives, followed by several high fives. The trucks’ first cargo run involved “an enormous amount of Frito Lays” which were handed out to people in attendance. Pepsi’s Kirk Tanner then took the mic and said: “I want to thank the people who have spent countless hours to make this a reality.” before thanking Elon Musk and the other Tesla representatives. Other companies are also interested in Tesla’s electric semi. Budweiser, Walmart, and UPS are amongst those who have placed pre-orders — with Budweiser ordering at least 40 of the large electric vehicles.

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Kanye West Is No Longer Buying Twitter-Rival Parler

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It’s unclear whether West’s recent controversies have anything to do with the Parler deal falling apart. In a statement shared with CNBC, Parler’s owner notes that the “decision was made in the interest of both parties in mid-November.” Parler says it will be on the lookout for the growth opportunities, without clarifying if it was looking for investors to scale up, or full-fledged buyers. The latter seems unlikely to happen, given the current state of layoffs in the tech industry and the looming fears of a recession.

Parlement Technologies reportedly had high hopes from its acquisition deal with Kanye West. Soon after the agreement press release went out, Parler sent out an email to its “VIP” users, offering them perks like a gold badge for being valuable personalities on the platform. Politico reports that the email campaign inadvertently revealed the personal contact information of nearly a dozen lawmakers and some well-known conservative personalities.

Citing an insider source, Axios reports that West’s unstable financial situation following the cancellation of lucrative deals with the likes of Adidas played a role in his Parler plans falling apart. In the meanwhile, West has returned to Twitter, after his account was restricted for a few weeks ago over sharing anti-Semitic remarks. West currently has a huge follower base of over 18 million on Twitter, which dwarfs the total number of users on Parler, as of December 2021.

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Elon Musk Says Twitter’s Potential Removal From iOS App Store Was ‘Misunderstanding’

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Barely two days after Elon Musk feuded with Apple publicly, he met with Tim Cook to settle the differences. “We resolved the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from the App Store. Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” Elon Musk tweeted last evening. This was a few hours after he shared a video of Apple’s HQ to disclose the location of the meeting.

However, Elon Musk didn’t reveal if Apple will continue advertising on Twitter. According to the Washington Post, Apple was the biggest ad spender on Twitter in Q1 2022. It spent an average of $4 million per week to run ads on Twitter between January to March this year — this added up to about 4% of Twitter’s revenue. However, Reuters reports that Apple reduced its weekly ad budget on Twitter to $131,600 a few weeks after Elon Musk bought the social media company. We also haven’t heard from Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, about the agenda of his meeting with Elon Musk. 

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