Apple and Google have decided to put their rivalry and differences aside for the next few months, and are teaming up to create and embed a feature on Android and Apple devices to inform users if they had been in close contact with infected individuals. Once created and finalised, the technology giants are planning to deploy this feature in to the operating systems of iPhones and Android devices around the world.
We all know the specifics of how dangerous and contagious the disease is, and that it can be transmitted through close proximity to those affected. With buildings, societies and colonies being sealed off in Mumbai, Delhi and other places around the world – public health authorities have identified that ‘’contact tracing” is an important tool to possibly curb the spread of COVID-19.
Thus, applying this principle to the core of designing the new tool and feature, Apple and Google plan to enable smartphones to constantly log other devices they come near. This has been labelled as ‘Privacy-safe contact tracing using Bluetooth Low Energy’. Both giants will release application programming interfaces (APIs) in May that aid public health authorities navigate both, Android and iOS devices. These official apps will be available for users to download through the app stores.
Briefly, through the tool, people who are infected with the coronavirus would notify the public health app with their test results. The public health app then would send notifications and/or alerts to phones that had recently come into proximity with that person’s device – without revealing the identity of the infected person. The following slides provided by Apple and Google’s press release help understanding this better.
Even though the fact that these two giants are joining forces to help slow down the pandemic is great news, on the downside, privacy issues are an ongoing concern and it also raises questions as to the amount of unprecedented access Apple and Google will have to individuals’ lives.
However, in their press release, Apple and Google have stated that this new tool wouldn’t collect personally identifiable information or user location data. To enable this feature on their phones, explicit users consent is required. Also, people who test positive are not identified to other users, whether they’re using Google or Apple smartphones and the data will only be used for contact tracing by public health authorities to curb the pandemic.
Google CEO, Sundar Pichai tweeted that the contact tracing approach is “designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy.” Apple CEO, Tim Cook tweeted that contact tracing “can be done without compromising user privacy.” And that this new feature “respects transparency and consent.”
You can find more information on the technical specifications and other related items to this feature here.