Apple and Google Join Forces to Track the Spread of Coronavirus
New contact tracing apps could alert users who have been exposed to Covid-19
Google and Apple announced a new partnership on Friday to develop solutions for tracking the spread of the coronavirus. The system will rely on Bluetooth technology in smartphones to alert people who may have been exposed to an infected individual, and it represents a rare bit of cooperation between the competing iOS and Android platforms.
The technology giants detailed their plans in two announcements (one from Apple, one from Google). In May, the two will introduce APIs for developers to create their own “contact tracing platforms” on smartphone apps. If you download such an app and cross paths with someone who later uploads a positive test result, you would receive a notification about potential exposure with information about what to do next.
Apple and Google say they will eventually update iOS and Android to contain the Bluetooth functionality without an additional app download. Both companies highlighted user privacy in their documentation about the contact tracing feature — it would require users to opt in, and any data shared would be anonymized.
“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” the companies said in their statement. “Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of [Covid-19] and accelerate the return of everyday life.”
Contact tracing is used to map the contacts of someone diagnosed with an infectious disease. Seattle health authorities deployed this method to find their coronavirus Patient Zero, and San Francisco will tap more than 100 volunteers and government employees to interview and plot the movements of everyone testing positive for Covid-19.
A mobile version would follow similar protocols. But instead of relying on interviews to chart the paths of infected people, that crucial information would come from Bluetooth data.