Bluetooth for the pandemic

Once the most beloved of all messaging applications, bluetooth low energy transmission systems lead a quiet life now. Now mostly used to pair devices within a certain radius of about 100m,: it connects your phone doesn’t connect to your wireless headphones, or is used to share files refuse to share through airdrop. However, this nearly forgotten technology transmission mechanism is now being hailed as the best available de-facto method for contact tracing apps. Its proponents champion Bluetooth as a cybersecure option compared to location-based contact tracing apps that centrally store non-anonymized personal data. Most privacy-conscious contact tracing apps including the Apple/Google Exposure Notification System rely on Bluetooth these days. They use it to connect and share encryption data amongst devices, such as a TCN (Temporary Contact Number) that anonymizes individual data while retaining metadata on their respective mobilities. If someone updates their infection status, that data is shared (while anonymizing the specific user) with all the devices with which encryption data has been shared via Bluetooth. Bluetooth thus works on the promise of cyber-cryptography to anonymize data amongst users. However, bluetooth-based encrypted transmission does not by itself guarantee privacy. Company servers still retain encryption data on centralized databases to relay information to those logged into an user’s encryption histories or relay to third parties like government organizations. Despite its promise of reach, the bandwidth of devices covered, and anonymization, bluetooth-based contact tracing continues to have some of the same problems as centralized data collection. With the potential for trading with third parties like governments, employers and health insurance providers already quite potent, it leaves the question of data futures open and questionable.