The current Radar Covid app for Android, as reported and posted on GitHub the developer Jorge J. Ramos, contains a trace to Firebase, a Google tool frequently used in app development, mainly to obtain analytics and information on errors.
As we indicate in our in-depth analysis of the Radar Covid code, actually Android app code does not match code posted on GitHub, and one of the differences is precisely this: the trace to Firebase is not in the GitHub version, but it is in version 1.0 that is currently used in Android.
What is Firebase and what is it used for in Radar Covid
Firebase, as Google itself explains, is a tool that allows you to record events in applications. In other words, serves, among others, to send error reports to the developer. The main “problem” is that in order to send these reports it collects various data along the way: phone model that has downloaded the app, usage time, and so on.
Each developer can use Firebase for a specific purpose. From the Secretary of State for Artificial Intelligence (SEDIA) they tell us that this tool was used during the testing phase of the application to “speed up development” (detect bugs) and that, in the updated version (the one published on GitHub), it is no longer implemented.
“For clarification, no user data has ever been collected. It was simply used during the testing phase to speed up development, no more. In the updated version you can see that it is gone.” SEDIA spokesperson.
Although it is not known exactly what data Radar Covid collected in its testing phase, SEDIA ensures that no data was ever collected from users. The privacy concerns with this code are that, according to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), apps are obliged to report the presence of external code (in this case, Google’s), something that has not been done.
While it is true that they have skipped this step since the full version will not use Firebase (As reported to us from SEDIA), taking into account that version 1.0 on Android has traces of software, it should have been indicated according to the Regulation.
Does Firebase pose a privacy risk?
Not at the beginning. In the first place, because the frequent use of Firebase is to take analytics about errors and use of the application, something that SEDIA subscribes to, stating that it has been used in the development phase of the app to streamline the process. The current app contains a trace to Firebase, but there are no explicit references in the code to Firebase itself. What there is is a reference to a folder called ‘Pods’, a small remnant of a system called Cocoapods, the recommended means of implementing Firebase.
The most important thing here is that the version published on GitHub, which is the most current version, no longer contains this code. In fact, if you look at the version of Radar Covid for iOS, the 1.07, this trace is not present. On Android we still have version 1.0, which is not up to date and contains discrepancies with the GitHub code.
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