Tech giants Google and Apple are working on a Covid-19 tracking tool to help health officials and individuals discover when someone has come into close proximity with an infected patient. The tool is a joint venture between the two companies, which are focused on developing a tracking system that is interoperable across iOS and Android devices.
According to the announcement, software developers will use Bluetooth technology to develop application programming interfaces (APIs) that are designed to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus.
The key will be getting people to opt in.
The companies say they plan to maintain strong protections around user privacy as they roll out the tool, which can be integrated into apps from public health authorities. Android and iOS users would be able to download the apps, which are slated for release in May, via Google Play and the App Store.
The second phase is far more robust as it will implement the contact tracing technology system-wide across all iOS and Android devices.
“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.”
In the second phase, iOS and Android users would not need to download an app.
Instead, by opting in, a user would trigger the coronavirus tracking feature. Once an infected person notifies a public health authority of their positive Covid-19 diagnosis via an app, the system would then send an alert to any users who have opted in and who have been in close proximity to the patient.
The data would remain anonymized to protect privacy. People who test positive will not be revealed to Apple, Google or other users. Nor will the system relay any location data, since the purpose of the tracing tool is to warn people who have been near someone who is infected – regardless of a specific address or region – so that they get tested, seek treatment and/or self-quarantine.
Apple CEO Tim Cook says,
“Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with Sundar Pichai and Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent.”
In addition to the Google-Apple collaboration, several startups and universities are working on various approaches to fight the spread of the virus by utilizing tracking technology while maintaining user privacy.
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