Apple and Google have partnered to develop a contact tracing functionality into iOS and Android smartphones in the coming months. The joint operation is part of the technology giants’ efforts at containing the spread of coronavirus across the globe. It will allow for health safety data to be shared by governments and health agencies via Bluetooth technology.
“Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing,” Apple wrote.
The implementation of the agreement will be in two phases. First, both Apple and Google will launch APIs that allow for iOS and Android devices to work together in activating health apps from public authorities. The official government apps will be downloadable from either Apple Store or Google Play. This is projected to be achieved in May.
The second phase of the project will allow contact tracing functionality to be built into the Apple/Google platforms using Bluetooth technology. This second phase is more robust than the first API stage and it will empower interested individuals to opt-in and interact with a broader ecosystem of government apps. Apple stated that everything will be open and voluntary for interested participants.
“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,” Apple disclosed. “We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.”
When people opt-in, they can report if they have been diagnosed with coronavirus and everyone else within proximity of the infected individual will be alerted to the status of the person so that they can maintain appropriate social distancing.
As good as this initiative is, some people have raised concerns about using digital surveillance technology to trace COVID-19 infected individuals, saying it raises privacy worries. However, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple’s CEO Tim Cook have assured that privacy will be respected and that people will only be able to opt-in on a voluntary basis.
“To help public health officials slow the spread of coronavirus, Google and Apple are working on a contact tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy,” Pichai wrote.
According to Cook, “contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency and consent.”