Casually sinister, Prime Minister

Headlines are often misleading, usually written by someone other than the article’s author.

Regardless of that, the casual manner in which this is written, seemingly without considering the alternate ways it might be read and received, is truly frightening:

Earn“. As in, “earn” your freedom.

…more app downloads are needed“. All that’s needed to complete the sentence is, “or else“.

Perhaps the headline doesn’t reflect the facts contained within the story. After all, the Sydney Morning Herald had hundreds of headlines about Russian hacking of various elections without providing any evidence within those articles.

Sadly, no; The Prime Minister really went there:

About 3.6 million people, or 15 per cent of the population, have downloaded the CovidSafe app, used to determine who has had contact with an individual carrying the virus, since its release last Sunday. This is far short of the government’s target for 40 per cent adoption, with a focus on those over the age of 16.

“That is the ticket to opening up our economy – to getting people back into jobs and getting businesses open again,” Mr Morrison said.

Great. Suddenly that “voluntary” app (that still hasn’t had the associated privacy legislation passed, by the way) is starting to feel a little less of a free choice with no negative consequences for conscientious objectors.

In fact, who else wonders whether, if 80% of the population vote “nien danke” to the app, there won’t be further legislation defining what public services and spaces one is unable to use without showing it running on your device?

Bill’s Opinion

The opinions about this app are polarised. It’s yet again another Brexit/Trump/gay marriage type issue; if you’re on one side of the conversation, you are able to loudly express your opinion without fear of censure. The other side, however, sit quietly seething in the knowledge they will be shouted down for even suggesting there may be a microscopic smidgen of merit to the suggestion the app is government overreach.

Personally, I’m not downloading the app voluntarily. If I find myself restricted in society as a consequence, I’d reconsider that for precisely as long as it takes me to emigrate.

The question would be at that point, to where? The entire globe seems to have pivoted overnight to a socialist, Keynesian, semi-authoritarian dystopia.

4 Replies to “Casually sinister, Prime Minister”

  1. I am concerned that governments and many others are far too optimistic on the automatic tracing approach. It seems to me that, with shared public transport (trains especially) and (even worse) sports and other large audience events, the contact combinatorial explosion (with typically 3 to 7 days symptomless) is likely to be overwhelming. On top of that is the ‘false contact’ issue with Bluetooth radius being tens of metres and spreading radius being (so we are told) only up to 2 metres – and us having little knowledge on the ‘contact’ duration and mechanism required to pass on the infection (and that being affected by weather conditions).

    And then there are the asymptomatic who, if ever, only get diagnosed by an antibody test a very likely unknown period after their infectious start and end dates – that does not help tracing. And asymptomatic-to-asymptomatic has a high probability of breaking any track.

    Automatic tracing also needs to be compared to the manual possibilities. Manual is more expensive and has greater delay, but is (very likely to be) more accurate in each individual case.

    Are there any smart computational mathematicians out there who can work out what are the initial condition and other parameter constraints on practicality? For example: asymptomatic versus symptomatic ratio, starting proportion of the infectious, reliability of testing and discovery, effectiveness of quarantining after discovery, reliability of automatic contact discovery and so tracing miss rate and false alarm rate, … and on and on and on.

    Keep safe and best regards

  2. I think the government is stuck between an economic depression and a pandemic.

    They see the economic depression creating more pain than the pandemic.

    But they dont have much time available to save the economy. They need to show everyone that they have the pandemic under control and can manage it. Technological efficacy is not as important as consumer confidence.

    People don’t bother downloading the app though. It’s not that interesting for them.

    I work at one of the big 4 banks and they initially were promoting the app strongly. They had so many complaints from staff that they had to back down on their messaging for it and soften the tone a bit.

    It is not a popular idea.

    People don’t want it.

    What will they do? Offer reward points to get people in it.

  3. Nigel: Manual is more expensive and has greater delay, but is (very likely to be) more accurate in each individual case.
    How so? In the example you cite of transit systems I won’t have any idea who is next to me, or who got on or off the car when. The times when manual tracing would work well – contact with people I can identify / recognize; shop clerks, attendants, etc, automated tracing is likely to work just as well. As for the other people in the store – they’re in the same category as fellow passengers on a subway.
    I see the extent of the overreach – but I don’t think any tracing system is likely to work very well.

  4. dcardno writes: Nigel: [Manual is more expensive … How so?]

    The first and main thing to note is that dcardno and I are in some agreement, concerning the likely effectiveness of tracing. We are both sceptical. I was specifically looking for more information, on manual as well as on automatic.

    On the relative effectiveness of manual and automatic methods, this will depend on details of each scenario. I can, for example, believe manual analysis would show waiting outside at a bus stop on a sunny day likely presents less risk than being inside the bus. For buses and some trains (many of which have CCTV), details of proximity (including train/coach reserved seat number) has relevance, as do incidents of sneezing, coughing, sequences of touching handles etc (which people tend to note more about nowadays). I have also experienced concerns in the supermarket, with other customers picking up produce which they then do not buy; again CCTV helps perhaps in identifying a subsequent purchaser – all better that a blazing public row with the product ‘mishandler’!

    Definitely, arguments are not good which hinge on there being a single binary division between manual and automatic. Each has (relatively) some strengths and some weaknesses – mixed use and sophisticated scoring might be best overall. How can we check? And do it right?

    Keep safe and best regards

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