Californians not downloading COVID tracking app. Wut?

Last month, the state of California launched a new mobile phone app that would allow residents to participate in an automated contact tracing program. Everyone’s location would be detected by the app on a 24/7 basis and if you unwittingly came in contact with a person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus you would be notified. Then everyone who had been in contact with you since the time of your exposure would similarly be flagged. Sounds like an almost foolproof plan, right? There turned out to be just one fly in the ointment, however. Barely one-fifth of California residents installed the app and even some of those who did download it later uninstalled it. (CBS Los Angeles)

California health officials have urged residents to sign up for the California Notify mobile app to help track coronavirus cases, but most of the state population has yet to register.

According to the California Health Department, about eight million people in the state have signed up out of the population of roughly 40 million people.

The app, which launched on Dec. 10, lets residents know if they’ve been within six feet of a person who has tested positive for coronavirus with 15 or more minutes of contact.

Gee. I wonder why more people didn’t immediately sign up to have their phone constantly checking out who they’ve come close to every moment of their lives. It’s a real mystery for sure.

The state is rushing to assure everyone that this isn’t any sort of “snooping” program. They claim that the app doesn’t record information such as your name, your contacts, your location or where you have traveled. It supposedly relies on Bluetooth technology to exchange randomly generated “keys” with other phones in your vicinity that have the app installed. But how many people are likely to buy that explanation? This tool isn’t quite as dystopian-sounding as the one that Israel recently rolled out (which isn’t optional), but it’s still intrusive.

If the app doesn’t know where you are and it doesn’t know where the other, supposedly infected individual is, how can it tell anything meaningful about your potential exposure? As far as your identity goes, whether you’re using Apple or Android, whenever you download and install an app, the system knows who you are. And if you disable your location tracking, a lot of them will simply cease to work.

Personally, I’ve long since given up on the battle to keep my location data private from the prying eyes of Big Tech. Since I make use of Google’s travel guide features, the system clearly monitors my activities more closely than any parolee with an ankle bracelet. At the end of last year, Google sent me an unsolicited email showing a map of everywhere I had traveled in 2020 and how long I had spent on the road or in the air, along with a list of every business establishment I had visited. (Given the pandemic, it was a pretty short list, but still kind of disturbing.)

Even though I may have surrendered to Google, if New York state puts up an app such as this, I can assure you that there is zero chance that I would download and install it. Is it really all that surprising that even our liberal brothers and sisters in the Golden State are shying away from it?