Apple has announced it is working with Google on contact tracing technology in an effort to stop the spread of the pandemic.
Contact tracing involves tracing the contacts of an infected person, checking for further infections and tracing the ongoing and spreading network of contacts. In a press release, Apple described the initiative as “a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.”
The two companies will launch an API and “operating system-level technology” that will play a role in the contact tracing. Both companies are committed to trying to protect user privacy. To aid in that goal, the project will be rolled out in two phases.
“First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities,” the release continues. “These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.
“Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities. Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.”
According to information on Google’s blog, the apps will not collect personally identifiable information, and the list of people a user has been in contact with will not leave their phone. The apps will also not track location. Instead, the phones, using anonymous Bluetooth keys will keep track of the phones it has been in close proximity with. If someone tests positive, and updates the app accordingly, anyone who has been in close proximity will be notified that they have been exposed and need to take the necessary measures.
There are still many details left to be fleshed out, but hopefully the two companies will live up to their promise of protecting user privacy. While Google does not have the best track record in this regard, Apple is one of the foremost privacy proponents. Hopefully Apple’s involvement will help ensure user privacy is truly respected.
Image Credit: Apple