Seismology On Your Android Phone While You Sleep
A Different Take On A Tracing App
There is a large ongoing conversation about COVID-19 contract tracing apps and if they should be remain voluntary or if the app should be pushed to all compatible phones; leaving it to the user to act on or ignore warnings. It is not just a philosophical argument as many of the apps were initially designed with far less focus on security than was wise and that decision helped create some of the current distrust many have about those tracing apps.
This may be part of the reason that Google is silently rolling out earthquake tracing to Android devices as part of their Google Play Services framework and not as an installable app. In recognition of the nature of this move, the app will only use your devices accelerometer when it is plugged into a power source and not being used so it will not trace your daily movements nor chew through your battery. That second point is important as it is even being pushed out to devices running Android 5.0 and some of those elderly devices may not have much juice to spare.
The data they collect will be minimal, with only a rough location of your phone and the time the accelerometer thinks it might have detected a quake. In theory if enough devices in an area report a quake then it would be worth investigating but overall this is no replacement for a proper seismometer. The phone could be being shaken by a fan if it is placed nearby one, by passing traffic or even activities taking place in the bed it is beside, so the actual utility of the app is somewhat questionable.
It will be interesting to see if people take note of this, and if they do, how they will react to the possible concerns the distribution of the app and the data it collects.
Which is why Google isn’t bothering to give them a choice. Not directly, at least. On devices running Android 5.0 or above, the new seismic API will be automatically installed as part of the Google Play Services framework rather than as a system update.
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