HOUSTON – Your cell phone could be the latest weapon in the fight against COVID-19.
Some of you noticed the new technology that seemed to pop up out of nowhere late last week and you asked Channel 2 Investigates if you need to worry.
How did it get there? And exactly what is it doing?
As it turns out, it was tech-giants Apple and Google’s way to help with contact tracing for the virus, explained Mary Dickerson, Chief Information Security Officer for the University of Houston. She also says it’s not all that scary or invasive.
“It allows that phone, if there’s an app that can use that particular piece of software, it will allow for this tracking to occur,” Dickerson said.
What’s on your phone is not an app. It’s simply technology that would work with an app if one was available.
And if that happens, you can decide if you want to download it to track people you come in contact with that may have been exposed to the virus.
“If you and I are both at Starbucks and I have it enabled on my phone and you have it enabled on your phone, our phones will exchange the random ID numbers,” Dickerson said. “So I will get a listing of your ID number in my phone because I have been in proximity with you.”
If either of the users later tests positive for COVID-19, they can go back into the app and tell it to share the information with the users they were in contact with.
“How long was I around them, and was I two inches from them, or two feet,” said Dickerson.
The technology is being rolled out by Google and Apple when you update your phone or the Google app.
So far, the health departments in only three states — Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina — have said they want to develop an app to work with the technology.
Since the app is only using random ID numbers, Dickerson said there is no threat to your personal health information.
But she does see other weaknesses in the system.
“If I wanted to do something bad to a business, I could intentionally go to a business and then say that I tested positive, so everyone in that restaurant is gonna be notified, ‘Hey a person that you were near tested positive.’ That could do bad things to that business,” she said.
The bottom line is no one installed an app on your phone, but you are not being tracked. If an app is created in Texas and you want to be part of the contact tracing program, you will have to opt into it and download the app.