Friday Five: iPhones to contact-trace without app

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. iPhones can contact-trace without Covid app

iPhone users will no longer have to download an official Covid-19 app in order to use their phone for contact-tracing. Instead, they will be able to opt in to a scheme called Exposure Notifications Express, which keeps a 14-day log of other phones detected by Bluetooth and sends an alert if one of the users is diagnosed with the virus.

Google will follow Apple with a parallel scheme of its own for Android later this month, although Google has opted to automatically create a basic Covid-19 tracing app for public health authorities. To date, more than 20 countries have released apps based on Apple and Google’s framework, including Germany, Japan and Ireland.

2. Why is this trending? Well, here’s why…

The question ‘why is this trending?’ was tweeted by more than half a million people in 2019. So, in order to answer that question, Twitter is going to add pinned tweets and short descriptions to some of the trending topics on its service. This will be rolled out on iOS and Android first, and come to Twitter on the web soon after.

The pinned tweets will be decided by a combination of algorithms and human creation, and descriptions will be written by humans. The trending section has had a lot of criticism for helping to spread misinformation, with hashtags related to QAnon conspiracy theories and bot accounts amplifying pro-Saudi Arabia talking points.

3. Stop the press — interactive paper has arrived

Engineers at a US university have created a printing process that could enable people to interact with their phones or computers using just a regular sheet of notebook paper. It coats paper with highly fluorinated molecules to make it dust and water-repellent, meaning circuit layers can be printed on it without smudging the ink.

Apparently these “triboelectric areas” are capable of “self-powered Bluetooth wireless communication”, which means the paper doesn’t need batteries as it generates electricity from contact with a user’s finger. Because the tech is relatively cheap, flexible and quick to make, it could be ideal for things like smart packaging.

4. Facebook threatens news ban in Australia

Facebook has threatened to ban all news contentfor users in Australia if the government moves ahead with proposed regulations that would force the platform to share profits with other news outlets. Facebook’s ban would apply to both news organisations and individuals on Facebook and Instagram.

The Australian government argues that Facebook and Google are profiting from content created by Australian media companies and not properly sharing the wealth. Unsurprisingly, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns The Australian, the country’s only national newspaper, is in full support of the profit-sharing proposal.

5. Japanese airline elbows hygiene fears aside

A Japanese airline is testing out an ‘elbow-activated’ toilet door in a bid to ease fears about the spread of Covid-19 on its planes. All Nippon Airways (ANA) started trialling the hands-free doors at Haneda Airport in Tokyo in mid-June, and is collecting feedback from travellers to see if the device would boost passenger confidence.

There are two different components to the locking mechanism: the door will still open inwards, but instead of pulling a latch, passengers will be able to push the door open, hands-free, with their elbow. The design could be extended to other ANA aircraft, although it’s not yet known whether it would meet strict aviation standards.

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