An artist visualized what your smartphone can 'see' using Bluetooth — and it shows one of the biggest challenges faced by coronavirus tracking technology

BLE Atlas, Claudio Guarnieri
  • A new website created by artist and security researcher Claudio Guarnieri shows in real-time what one smartphone can ‘see’ using Bluetooth.
  • Tech companies including Apple and Google are working on contact tracing technology that would use Bluetooth – rather than GPS location data – to warn people when they have come in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
  • But Apple and Google will have to find a workaround to avoid false positives. Guarnieri told Business Insider that his site illustrates that challenge, showing just how crowded the Bluetooth space is.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a matter of seconds, dozens of blips appear on a radar and fade away, only to be replaced with new blips seconds later.

The radar is featured on a new website created by artist and security researcher Claudio Guarnieri. The site shows what a smartphone can “see” using Bluetooth – and it illustrates one of the biggest challenges faced by tech giants creating tools to fight COVID-19.

Google and Apple are currently building a COVID-19 contact tracing technology that would rely on Bluetooth in people’s smartphones – rather than GPS location data – to log when a person comes in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The technology is still in development and is expected to be rolled out later this summer.

One criticism of the technology is that Bluetooth frequently detects devices that are through walls or other objects that wouldn’t necessarily transmit the coronavirus, leading to some inaccuracies. In order to create an effective contact tracing tool, experts say Google and Apple will have to make sure it is accurate and widely adopted.

Guarnieri’s site, first reported by Vice’s Motherboard, displays a frenetic radar powered by a Bluetooth beacon Guarnieri set up. The radar is a real-time reflection of smartphones and other Bluetooth-enabled devices within range of Guarnieri’s beacon – and it detected even more devices that he was expecting.

“The quantity of transmissions I observe turned out to be much higher than I anticipated, so much so that my sensor sometimes struggles to keep up,” Guarnieri told Business Insider.

When viewed by Business Insider Tuesday morning, dozens of devices appeared on Guarnieri’s radar every minute, including products made by Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft, among other manufacturers. Every few minutes, a device would appear in red, indicating that it’s within especially close range.

https://vimeo.com/api/oembed.json?url=https://vimeo.com/409738014

It shows one of the biggest challenges facing contact tracing technology: ruling out false positives. Guarnieri told Business Insider that he’s kept the beacon inside his Berlin home, meaning many of the blips reflect devices detected through walls that would be considered false positives if registered by contact tracing technology.

“The effectiveness of the calculation of proximity really boils down to the calibration of the signal strength threshold. Even with a very restrictive threshold, there will most likely be some false positives,” Guarnieri said.

Check out Guarnieri’s site here.

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