Apple, Google join hands on 'contact tracing' technology to curb Covid-19

Topics Coronavirus | Apple  | Lockdown

The move comes with governments around the world studying or implementing measures to use smartphone location technology

Apple and Google on Friday announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, with user privacy and security central to the design.

Apple and Google are launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy, Apple said in a statement

First, in May, the tech giants will release APIs that enable 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.

Smartphones powered by Apple software and Google-backed Android operating system would be able to exchange information with a joint "opt in system." The tech giants will collaborate on a "contact tracing" system which can identify people in contact with an infected person and alert users.

"Contact tracing can help slow the spread of Covid-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We're working with @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent," tweeted Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent. https://t.co/94XlbmaGZV

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 10, 2020

"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 a joint statement.

The first step will be the release, next month, of software interface and operating system-level technology to let iPhones and Android-powered phones share information through applications provided by public health authorities, according to the companies.

The move comes with governments around the world studying or implementing measures to use smartphone location technology to identify people with the virus and keep them from infecting others, even as the efforts raise privacy and civil liberties concerns.

Since Covid-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. Apple and Google said they will work together in the coming months to use standard Bluetooth capabilities relied on by wireless devices such as earbuds to be used to let handsets exchange information.

Apple and Google contended that "privacy, transparency, and consent" were top priorities in the joint initiative.

"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 longtime rivals said in the release.

"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.

"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," said Apple.



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