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Medicine Science

The Woman Whose Phone 'Misdiagnosed HIV' (bbc.com) 166

An anonymous reader shares a report on BBC about a woman in Kenya, who downloaded a prank app that noted that she has HIV simply by "analyzing her fingerprint." While many people would have not trusted an app for such kind of diagnosis in the first place, and some would have figured that something is amiss about the app, the story tells the tale of people who are increasingly finding it hard to deal with the technological advances they see. From the report: Esther sells water on the side of the road in Kenya for a few dollars a day. She also owns a smartphone and ownership of such a device should, according to most of the received wisdom, empower its owner. But in fact it did quite the opposite for her when she acquired an app. It claimed to diagnose HIV simply by analysing her fingerprint on the touch screen. When researchers met her at her roadside workplace, she was worried. "She did not know if it was true and she was panicking," said researcher Laura de Reynal, who worked on a year-long study into the experiences of first-time smartphone users in Kenya. "And she wasn't the only one, there were others that came to us worried about this app and those were just the ones that were willing to speak out." The app was in fact a prank and anyone reading the comments on Google's Play Store would have seen that. However, many first-time smartphone users in Kenya get hold of apps via a friend's Bluetooth connection, rather than downloading them via the net, in order to save data. But the prank would not have been apparent via a Bluetooth share. "People are not able to understand the limits of the technology," said Ms de Reynal. "They think, because it was on a smartphone, it seems real and credible."
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The Woman Whose Phone 'Misdiagnosed HIV'

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  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:27AM (#54249467)

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    I also don't think this woman should be criticized. When I see the stupid things people who have grown up with technology do (as opposed to growing up dirt poor in Africa), she's no worse off than they are.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In all seriousness, this really has little to do with technology.

      Into the 1990s and even the 2000s we've seen numerous outbreaks of "Genital Retraction Syndrome" [wikipedia.org] in various African nations.

      In essence, these outbreaks are cases of mass hysteria where people mistakenly think that their genitalia are shrinking or even being "stolen".

      This is how the Wikipedia article currently describes it:

      In the 1970s and early 1980s, newspapers reported incidents of genital shrinking in Western Nigeria. Since late 1996, a sma

      • by Jawnn ( 445279 )
        Interesting. Kind of explains the popularity of jacked-to-the-sky pickemup trucks.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Unlike AIDS, this is something that men who think they're affected can check for themselves. All that a man needs to do is check if his penis is still present, and that its size is remaining consistent.

        Even without cell phones and technology, we'd still see misdiagnoses in Africa, even when this misdiagnosis can easily be proven to be wrong or nonsensical like in the cases of "Genital Retraction Syndrome".

        If you think penis and testical sizes remain constant under fluctuating environmental conditions you must not have any significant experience with them.

        • Genital Retraction Syndrome involves a distinctly more...extreme version of shrinking--the expectation is more along the lines of 'extreme feminizing' or 'will end up with an infant boy's twig and berries.' The interesting thing is that men with it genuinely percieve that this level of shrinkage is happening--and very little will convince them that there is anything to be done except to go find and kill the black magic user who inflicted this upon them, because that's what they believe the cause of the (no

    • Fair call: although she didn't know the technology's capabilities at least she didn't walk out into traffic as though a set of earbuds provide an impenetrable force field.

      Which gives me a great idea for an app...is there a "herd culling" category?

      • by es330td ( 964170 )

        Which gives me a great idea for an app...is there a "herd culling" category?

        I think one searches for "Darwin effect."

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        The culling you talk of being the difference between believers and those that understand. Contrary to marketed belief, belief is not the higher form of humanity bit tied directly back to primitive mind function. Animals do things because they believe they work and are easily trapped when someone who understands that belief manipulates it to their own advantage because the animal can not understand the trap. The more evolved the intellect the more it is based upon understanding and the more it questions ever

    • Well, it's a relief to me. I've been in the closet ever since that "Gaydar" app detected me. Now that it turns out that these apps don't really work, I can stop hiding.

    • If this is the dumbest thing that this person does for the rest of her life; then she got off pretty damn lucky. But the irony is, "was the phone app wrong?"
    • The last millenium of technological and economic progress has been driven by specialization. Instead of everyone having to learn how to grow crops, hunt for food, dig a well, weave clothes, build a home, etc. we've all specialized. One person learns how to grow crops. He sells it to someone who hunts (or grows) livestock. Who hires someone to dig a well. Who buys clothes pre-made by someone else. Who hires people to build their home. Because each individual can concentrate on a small field of human k
      • Now that most jocks are addicted to their smartphones, nerds are going to get their own back

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Agreed. Before anyone in the U.S. criticizes, they should think back to the '70s (if they remember the '70s) when the computer couldn't be wrong. When any dispute with billing could be shut down by "well the computer says...". When any thing the computer was hard coded to print was taken to be some sort of mysterious process where people wondered "How could it possibly know that?" People even fell for "computer dating" where because computers were amazing and super smart they obviously could choose the best

    • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      I also don't think this woman should be criticized. When I see the stupid things people who have grown up with technology do (as opposed to growing up dirt poor in Africa), she's no worse off than they are.

      However, the technology that is being misunderstood isn't the app or the smartphone, it's how HIV medical tests are conducted. If you know that a HIV test requires drawing blood (and lab testing) and all the app does is scan your finger then you should be able to reason out that the app is utter crap.

      People will forever do stupid things. Technology just makes it easier and has the potential for a wider spread.

      • In general, people in Africa probably have a lot more understanding of HIV/AIDS and the testing procedures than people in the West do. For example:

        You say that HIV testing requires drawing blood and testing at a lab. Nope - HIV testing can now be done with saliva, in a cheap ($40) device, and give you results in about 15 minutes. A person in a country with a high rate of infection would very likely be at least somewhat familiar with such a thing considering that those tests are vastly cheaper than the old b

    • by Matheus ( 586080 )

      Yeah... I had *numerous friends duped by the various varieties of apps that claim to allow your phone to charge off of solar via the screen... You don't have to grow up without technology to not understand what it is (currently) capable of.

    • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      Especially in Africa. ;) [youtube.com]

  • by DeplorableCodeMonkey ( 4828467 ) on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:28AM (#54249471)

    ownership of such a device should, according to most of the received wisdom, empower its owner

    The smartphone did "empower her." It turns out that life does not work in dichotomies the way binary thinkers assume it must because, for whatever reason, that is all they can see. Did this new tool result in a net loss of capabilities for her? No, it just introduced a nasty unintended side effect based on her ignorance and a particular method of app distribution.

    • The problem is that is that giving people technology does not make them smarter. While certainly tech can be used for the purposes of education, it can not replace education. This is a chronic problem with people of all sorts. People in power want an ignorant populace because they are easier to control. People sitting in a different country with education can't understand why their magic bullets never hit a target. Lastly, the ignorant populace does not know any better and nobody will educate them.

      The

    • The problem is that there are people who have no idea what some idiot f***ing bastard somewhere in the western world thinks is "funny". The idea that someone would tell you that you are suffering from a most likely lethal disease and consider that a "prank" wouldn't occur to them.

      I'd suggest that the author of this app travels to Africa and tells these people in person what was so funny. If he doesn't come back alive, all the better.
      • The real problem is her ignorance.

        • by fedos ( 150319 )
          Which isn't her fault. This is a case of she doesn't know what she doesn't know. No one buys a phone and then says "gee, I better study up on the past 3 decades of the collective thought of another country."
  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:28AM (#54249473) Homepage

    well, this sort of machine is seen in films and on TV (think: Star Trek, ...), obviously all of Star Trek is not true, but which bits are and which are not? Then there is an X Prize competition to make a Medical tricorder [wikipedia.org], so think before you laugh at her.

    • by SumDog ( 466607 )

      I knew someone who was stationed in various African countries. I can't remember which country it was, but he said people didn't distinguish what was on TV and what was real. They thought Star Trek actually happened. It's on TV; it must be real.

      There are tribes in Brazil who do not have words for colour or numbers. The adults can never be taught basic math skills; or even in the case where they can learn them -- they never apply them to their daily lives. Language has a large impact on our perception of the

      • Given that animals have been taught basic addition, I'm somewhat skeptical that any human is incapable of learning or applying basic math.
  • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:30AM (#54249493)

    Someone once said that any technology advanced enough will appear as magic to someone who isn't used to it. (I'm sure if I weren't lazy I could google-fu who said that).

    There are places around the world where economics and science dictated they skipped over the computer generation. They went straight from disconnected villages to smart phones. A lot of the tech and what can and can't be done with it was never learnt. The lady in the summary wasn't necessarily gullible, or stupid, nor did she believe the phone was "magic" I'm sure. However, how the phone worked was probably almost magical, with an unexplained technology she couldn't fathom how it might work.

    Going from simple life to smart phone life, it's easy to see how someone can be fooled by what exactly is possible.

    • by Kenshin ( 43036 )

      People in developed countries can be easily tricked, too.

      Remember all the idiots who were fooled into believing that installing iOS 10 would make their iPhone waterproof?

      • by kyrsjo ( 2420192 )

        Or have read /r/talesfromtechsupport? An M.D. who was touching his monitor to open a fingerprint-unlocked USB drive (but accepted that it would not work "because his computer didn't have a touch screen) comes to mind in this case. And that was without deliberate misdirection - the program was simply showing a picture of the USB stick and an animation of how to touch it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This was the most interesting part of the article (ignore the "Firefox operating system" error):

    Commissioned by Mozilla - the organisation behind the Firefox operating system - the study was designed to find out what it is that limits people in the developing world from grabbing the opportunities offered by the web.

    This is a great reminder of why I won't donate to moz://a.

    Instead of spending money to improve Firefox, which badly needs some real improvement, moz://a squandered money researching the gullibili

    • moz://a squandered money researching the gullibility of third-worlders

      It's called market research. They're looking for a potential growth market where people may be gullible enough to use Firefox and believe it's good.

  • Part of the problem is in order to get trusted software, you need to have some sort of review process like the Apple Store, where only approved software is placed in, while this is good to make sure harmful or just bad taste software doesn't get placed in. It also creates a freedom issue, because like the Apple Store perfectly valid apps get rejected just because it may affect someones sensibilities, or step into Apples domain and they don't want to compete with your app.

    The HIV app is in Bad Taste to a po

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've had a smartphone for years. I'm an IT professional in a first-world country. And even I have difficulty at times discerning what's legit and what's not. Spammers are getting better and better, and if it weren't for the fact that I use a unique email address for every company with which I do business (something not accessible to the vast majority of computer users), I'm not sure that I wouldn't have been taken in a time or two.

    This is an interesting sociological issue, and I think it's likely to get muc

  • It seems we've gone full circle from browser hijacks with computer virus scares, to apps with human virus scares.

    Gives new meaning to 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'.

  • They should say Android phone and not smartphone. Android's competition has built in safeguards against malicious apps.

    • an Android smartphone with one setting lets you download and install APKs without a store. Something youcan't do with an iPhone.

      yes the sharing of apps via bluetooth is the cause of this woman's distress but it's also enabled her to use her phone. She got burned one time but she's also been living with this arrangement for presumably a while now. It's enabled her to do many thing that she wouldn't otherwise be able to do because of data limits. It's a bit like the cuban intranet. Or even the idea of selli

  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:41AM (#54249619)

    "People are not able to understand the limits of the technology," said Ms de Reynal. "They think, because it was on a smartphone, it seems real and credible."

    Well, she'll "understand the limits of the technology" a lot more now. That's how humans learn: through experience.

  • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:43AM (#54249639)

    "They think, because it was on a smartphone, it seems real and credible."

    This is no different from "but I have seen it on TV, so it must be true.

    Or any media that has been invented. The most memorizeable instance is probably the panic during "War of the Worlds"

    • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday April 17, 2017 @11:54AM (#54249741) Homepage Journal

      I have seen it on TV, so it must be true.

      Psychologically, it's a "voice of authority" [amzn.to]. Humans seem to be hard-wired to accept authority. It's a good idea for keeping kids from being eaten by lions.

      By adulthood, humans should learn to reject arbitrary authority. But it seems to be very easy for people to delay that maturation by decades or even forever - they accept gods, presidents, and televisions as "voices of authority" and obey their commands.

      It's really not good for anybody to have adults thinking and behaving like children, except for those who wish to control them.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Uh, this goes in your mouth. This one goes in your ear. And this one goes in your butt.
    All right, so that'll be... this many dollars.

  • The only way to avoid this happening again is to have a government fake apps investigation department to save stupid people from themselves. Sort of like what's proposed for "fake news".
  • I know of well paid americans that would do the exact same stupid mistake. Most of them get their computer infected with malware by being that uneducated.

    The problem is to safely and correctly use technology requires a high level of education that most people do not get. Most degree holders in the USA are dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to technology.

  • Pretty sure this has less to do with direct access to the Play Store and more to do with people from the third world, who for all intents and purposes view technology as magic, getting access to smart phones. And who was the friend who shared the app with her? One would think that friends would be even better sources for information on an App that they use and have on their phone than the play store's faceless reviews.

    • Pretty sure this has less to do with direct access to the Play Store and more to do with people from the third world, who for all intents and purposes view technology as magic, getting access to smart phones. And who was the friend who shared the app with her? One would think that friends would be even better sources for information on an App that they use and have on their phone than the play store's faceless reviews.

      you're wrong. This has everything to do with no access to the play store. This woman lives a life where she doesn't get her apps from the play store because of the cost of data. Were that not the case there wouldn't be an alternative economy of bluetoothing apps in a peer to peer manner. She would have gotten the app from the play store and it would have been much more obvious it was a prank.

      These are first time smart phone users. Not people who grew up in homes with phones. Poor Kenyans who are getting the

  • Seriously, I would say 1000 hours of social work for the "nice" person that wrote this and, say, 100M fine for Google to allow this in the app-store in the first place would be a good first step. Not everybody gets a good education when they grow up, and it usually not not their own fault. This also has nothing to do with IQ. Camouflage it a bit better and you find supposedly educated people fall for the most obviously stupid things. Examples: Religion, Trump promises, Erdogan promises, human-like AI, etc.

    • And 100B fine for giving that lady a smartphone that she couldn't handle.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        You miss the point.

      • in a third world country without a culture of technology that we have they developed their own economy of peer to peer app distribution. That's pretty impressive. That shows a pretty hefty degree of ingenuity
  • ...so you're suggesting that taking a person from roughly a 15th century existence and handing them a smartphone doesn't immediately make them a sophisticated, worldly Western-world consumer?

    Well hell, why didn't someone say that before?

    • by ghoul ( 157158 )

      ...so you're suggesting that taking a person from roughly a 15th century existence and handing them a smartphone doesn't immediately make them a sophisticated, worldly Western-world consumer?

      Well hell, why didn't someone say that before?

      Humans are adaptable. Prior to WW1 most Americans were farmers so you dont even have to go back to the 15th century. In fact Africa probably had a higher urbanisation rate than Americans 100 years back. If Americans can understand tech 100 years after coming off the farm so can Africans. Give them about 20 years and they will be kicking American tech ass as well as the Indians are doing now. Only hope is to go into their countries and create civil wars otherwise prepare for your new African overlords (same

  • People assumed they can trust companies like Google and Apple to protect them from false information. And that the government might actually protect them from fraud, as they have done for generations before.

    But now, we've suddenly decided that the Internet and App stores are the wild west. And caveat emptor is the new religion of Internet business.

    It's all bullshit though, and it's bound to come crashing down .

  • How did this app get on any appstore to begin with?
    • apps get on to app stores all the time, they just get removed fairly quickly. But copies can remain. Not that it would have been needed in this case. Someone could have coded it and injected it into the bluetooth economy from there it would spread.
  • Some people should not have computers;
    Others obviously should not have smartphones
    Even others, supposedly educated, have the tools but do not know how to interpret them, and the biggest offenders are IT people.
    It is a shame that common sense seems to go out of the window for the majority when people start using technology; some people would not believe such a tale if they heard it from a stranger, however they believe in everything they hear in some shady email or site; some people would not expose their
  • Anyone well informed enough to know that a smartphone can't diagnose an illness just finds them stupid and useless, and anyone NOT well informed enough could be caused great distress.

    And anyone who reads slashdot knows that the only real use for these apps are as ad or viral vectors. So why not just eliminate such apps from the market?
  • Honestly, while it isn't possible for a smartphone to do a quick-and-dirty disease assessment from a fingerprint, I wouldn't be surprised if mobile devices in the future come with attachments or accessories that could do blood analysis or more given the right software.

    I'd imagine that a device that takes a sample and sends it to a medical professional for diagnosis isn't that far in the future at all, if it doesn't already exist.

  • She should learn from it (fake apps exist) and be empowered by the "ownership of such a device".

    she should also learn that "get hold of apps via a friend's Bluetooth connection" was a bad idea. It's just like spread HIV from person to person but with an app. OH Wait a minute...

  • and they will make a call...
    Give an ignorant third worlder a phone, and they'll use it to beat a monkey to death

  • They aren't tricorders, yet...

It was pity stayed his hand. "Pity I don't have any more bullets," thought Frito. -- _Bored_of_the_Rings_, a Harvard Lampoon parody of Tolkein

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