A BLE advert contains information which is extremely useful for tracking; information about the device including the device's type and MAC address an identifier , and a payload containing the data being advertised. A UUID is a series of numbers, represented in hexadecimal notation. UUIDs are usually derived in one of two ways; either pseudo- randomly generated, or derived from a property of the device — e.
Because these UUIDs are practically unique, they are an ideal way of identifying and consistently referring to a single device. Of the various tracking technologies, Bluetooth certainly has the potential of being one of the least invasive purely based on its relatively low transmission radius, however there are significant drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, Bluetooth LE and Bluetooth in general is incredibly noisy.
How noisy? Open Bluetooth search on your phone and see how many devices you can see. Because the Bluetooth protocols broadcast information about the device such as MAC address, the approaches so far have tried to mitigate the risks of people identifying a single contact by only recording identifiers provided in the Bluetooth payload by contact tracking app, the aforementioned UUID.
To break this down, if you have Bluetooth turned on, your phone will broadcast its MAC address, as well as other device information, alongside the payload.
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A MAC address is a unique identifier used by networking devices, and is physically set in the Bluetooth chip in your phone. To further try and obscure a single phone over time, the UUIDs broadcasted by the app may be regularly regenerated. In order to keep track of the changes whilst still being able to tie them to an individual device, these UUIDs are either generated centrally — pushed down by the app's central server to your phone — or are generated on the device itself, and registered with the app. This doesn't, of course, stop the people operating the app in this case a Government — who have the database linking UUIDs to phone numbers — from deanonymising individuals.
Indeed, they may consider this a feature rather than a bug, but it's important to think of the scale involved. The Singapore app TraceTogether, which uses Bluetooth connections to log other phones in close proximity, works by alerting those who have been in close proximity to a user who tests positive for Covid, to self-isolate.
Given the speed at which this virus can spread, and if there was significant adoption of the app, it wouldn't take long until a significant number of the population are tracked by the app. The risks associated with using Bluetooth for location or proximity tracking do not just occur at the time the data is collected, but continue as long as it is stored — in particular once it has been linked to an individual. Thus there are concerns about how data such as these could be repurposed by Governments.
The desire for proximity tracking apps to force or encourage people to keep their Bluetooth turned on at all times creates additional risks. Whilst the effective range of Bluetooth is around 10m it can easily be further than that; Bluetooth can potentially transmit up to m. What this means is that if we have our Bluetooth constantly on and constantly broadcasting, we need to be aware what other apps on our phone are using this information, what permissions they have been granted and how this could benefit commercial tracking which uses Bluetooth technology.
Time after time , Bluetooth security has been found "wanting" - with the latest Android vulnerability, "BlueFrag" , affecting Android 8, 8. Apple's BLE also implements some anti-tracking techniques such as MAC address randomisation, however their implementation has significant drawbacks , with a motivated attacker able to bypass it entirely. Bluetooth LE has the capability of being both the least intrusive of tracking technologies based on proximity between people choosing to use the app , whilst at the same time being highly intrusive in movement and interaction tracking because its proximity is so small, and works as broadcast , and deanonymisation will necessarily cascade as the infection continues to spread, and uptake of apps increase.
As with everything we're seeing in the age of Covid, we must be highly aware of the limitations of the choices we are offered. It is also important that technical and legal safeguards around the processing and storage of data — especially when those data can be used for deanonymisation — are not bypassed or ignored in the rush to deploy technology, however well-meaning or indeed vital it may be.
It's also important to ensure that there exists a genuine need to use location tracking that is supported by the scientific evidence, given contact tracing is more effective at earlier stages of tackling pandemics.
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Balancing the risks of location tracking also involves consideration of whether the apps will be effective given the down-sides. It is also essential, in their view, that people identified by the contact tracing app be promptly tested. As of March 24, UK government data shows 90, people have been tested in Britain population Alternatives to using Bluetooth include the use of apps collecting GPS and Wifi location data and storing everything on a central server, or government authorities going directly to telecommunications operators themselves. Despite the drawbacks of Bluetooth, some of which we've explored in this primer, with the use of changing UUIDs, apps only tracking other users, and opt-in of upload of localised data, it's a far less intrusive tracking method than some alternatives.
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Post date. Key points. The risks associated with using Bluetooth for tracking do not just occur at the time the data is collected, but continue as long as it is stored — in particular once it has been linked to an individual Alternatives to Bluetooth include apps collecting GPS and Wifi location data, or government authorities going directly to telecommunications operators themselves Despite the drawbacks of Bluetooth, some of which we've explored in this primer, it's a far less intrusive tracking method than some alternatives.
Why Bluetooth? Just what is Bluetooth? Bluetooth for tracking? Bluetooth sounds ideal! Abuse of Bluetooth The risks associated with using Bluetooth for location or proximity tracking do not just occur at the time the data is collected, but continue as long as it is stored — in particular once it has been linked to an individual. Security A further negative with Bluetooth is its security. To conclude Bluetooth LE has the capability of being both the least intrusive of tracking technologies based on proximity between people choosing to use the app , whilst at the same time being highly intrusive in movement and interaction tracking because its proximity is so small, and works as broadcast , and deanonymisation will necessarily cascade as the infection continues to spread, and uptake of apps increase.
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