Apple and Google announced today that they are partnering with a contact tracking system that works on both iOS and Android that alerts people when they have been in contact with someone who has contracted a coronavirus. This collaboration between the two major smartphone companies would help health officials effectively track the spread of the disease without (ideally) violating the privacy of users.
To help public health officials slow the spread # COVID19, Google & @Apple are working on a contact tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy. @tim_cook and I agree to work together on these efforts.https: //t.co/T0j88YBcFu
– Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 10, 2020
The two companies said in a joint press release that they were working on a two-step approach to help healthcare organizations track the spread of the coronavirus. The system would essentially track interactions between phone users, and when a diagnosis of COVID-19 is detected, all people with whom they would interact would be notified – provided they have consented to participate.
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The first step would be: "[B]The other companies will release APIs that allow interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores. "The second would be to" activate a larger Bluetooth-based contact search platform. "
Contact tracking can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We work with @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials leverage Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency and consent. https://t.co/94XlbmaGZV
– Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 10, 2020
According to the white papers, it would work this way: when two people have any contact, their phone exchanges unique identification keys. If one of the people is diagnosed with COVID-19, their phone will broadcast, with their consent, an anonymous message informing all the other users whose keys they have stored in the past 14 days. The idea is to inform those who may have been exposed – which we hope would encourage them to quarantine and possibly get tested – but with as much respect for confidentiality and user consent as possible.
Here's what it looks like as an image:
The idea is that these keys do not require an application to function, and that they would change approximately every 15 minutes. The identifiers of other devices would be processed in the device, says Apple in its own white paper. The two companies point out that users should opt for it to work.
It’s quite remarkable to see the two big smartphone companies working together. As they said in the press release, "At Apple and Google, we all believe that there has never been a more important time to work together to solve one of the most urgent problems in the world. "
Both companies will deploy the APIs in May, and the larger contact finder will be deployed "in the coming months".
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