Tracing COVID-19 cases with Google Timeline?

jim bell jdb10987 at
Mon Mar 23 14:41:30 PDT 2020


    On Monday, March 23, 2020, 02:12:32 PM PDT, Punk-Stasi 2.0 <punks at> wrote:  
 On Mon, 23 Mar 2020 07:35:41 +0000 (UTC)
jim bell <jdb10987 at> wrote:

>> Israel passes emergency law to use mobile data for flu contact tracing

 >   Can you explain what that means in terms of libertarianism and cypherpunk principles?
Yes, I could take the time.   Israel doesn't claim to be a nation operating under the principles of libertarianism.  Should it be?  Yes. As should every nation. 
So, they are adopting this law.  If participating in this practice was voluntary, there probably won't be a problem.I believe that this system could be structured so as to minimize loss of privacy, but I have no idea if that principle will be followed in this specific situation and law.  I posted the reference to the article as I found it.  
I suspect that many and probably  most newly-discovered victims of Coronavirus will not object to having their prior locations tracked, if their "true name" or true identity isn't identified.   Details I will omit, for now.  Similarly, I think that most people who don't know themselves to be infected would voluntarily sign up for a service to alert them if they were "close" to a Coronavirus carrier.
Keep in mind that I asked for a dicussion of this issue to occur about a month ago.   If you have a problem with the idea, you  should have participated in discussions long before now.  And not merely made snide comments.  As some do.  
                      Jim Bell

jim bell <jdb10987 at>To:CypherPunks
Fri, Feb 21 at 4:43 PM
I am surprised that when I do a Google search for 'COVID-19 "google timeline" ', I see essentially no results.

We all know now what COVID-19 (nCov, Coronavirus) is.  From the reports I see, this virus has the unusual characteristic of being very contageous for up to periods of weeks prior to a person's feeling symptoms.  That is presumably how a large fraction of a cruise ship became infected.  This is quite ominous.  If epidemiologists were to ask a patient, "tell us where and when you've been each minute over the last 15 days"  the vast majority of these victims wouldn't have a prayer of providing that information.  And even worse, finding the other people who were "in that AM/PM at 5:07-5:21 10 days ago" would be essentially impossible.   Or potentially dozens of other involved locations, over those 15 days.  

Before one of you accuses me of "advocating" the use of Google Timeline to track potential cases of COVID-19 by means of Google Timeline, I don't need to "advocate" it.  Rather, I simply point out that there are a lot of people out there scared of this virus, and probably be looking for a way to determine if their paths have crossed with a victim, even if that victim wasn't symptomatic for 1-2 weeks after the contact.  So at some point, I think there will be discussion of this possibility.   The data is already being collected, in all Android phones (is there an Apple equivalent?)  In principle, if a new infectee is identified, it would be technically possible to work backwards, figure out where he has been over the relevant period, and find anybody who was close to him during a multi-week period.  

One reason this could be important is that there may be a drug which might reduce (or, hopefully, eliminate) a person's contageousness if it taken during this pre-symptomatic period.   One possibility is an old anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, which I have mentioned before.  

  But if people only begin taking chloroquine when they begin exhibiting symptoms  of this new flu, that means that they will be spreading that virus for as much as two weeks, or even more.  In principle, hundreds of people could be infected, directly or indirectly, merely because there is no early warning.  

 Suppose you receive a text or email notification that you were in a small store, 5 days ago, with a person who just developed symptoms of COVID-19.  You MIGHT be infected.   So, you MIGHT want to take a chloroquine pill.  (The half-life of chloroquine is 45-55 days).  Or some other pill that could assist if taken long before symptoms were likely to appear.  Not only might you not get sick, maybe you'd be able to avoid transmitting the virus to many others.  (My speculation...)   And maybe you'll live, when you otherwise wouldn't.   

We Cypherpunks are SUPPOSED to be more concerned, than average, about the privacy and freedom implications of technologies.  What I have described, above, might be handled in a completely-voluntary fashion.  But, we want to ensure that this doesn't turn into a permanent form of tracking.  So we should debate the implications of all this, ideally before everyone else is talking about it.

I would be surprised if Google isn't already considering something like this.  They have much of the data to do so.   They might hesitate to announce such an idea, for fear that people would think this is some sort of generalized people-tracking system.  

              Jim Bell

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