Apple and Google have partnered together in a first of it’s kind initiative to create a COVID-19 contact tracing tech for the Government. This tool helps people determine whether they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Contact tracing helps the public health officials track the spread of the disease, and get those suspected of carrying the virus, tested.
Two Phase Plan
The first phase of the project which will be in May, uses an API in which public health authorities use for integrating into their own apps, which will be downloadable via the respective stores In the second phase, they’ll work together to build a Bluetooth based contact tracing program into their apps, and it’ll work on all Android and iOS devices in an opt-in basis.
The data collected by this app, will be only used for collecting information by the public health authorities for the COVID-19 pandemic, and will not sniff off personal identification or user location data. It works in this way. Users would be able to share their COVID-19 status with health officials who would then use “contact tracing” using their Bluetooth to notify who passed you, and has possible exposure to the virus by tracking their phone’s data.
Contact tracing is a well known tool, and debated many times.It has been adopted by health authorities and universities, who are working on similar projects. This contact tracing project for COVID-19 was started a couple of weeks back, by engineers from both companies. The main reason for their involvement is due to the poor interoperability between systems on various manufacturer’s devices. The problem with multiple devices is that app effectiveness is reduced by a large extent. Hence contact tracing requires efficient inetoperability on multiple devices, and that’s the reason why Apple and Google have joined to work on this.
Working of the system
Here’s an example of how this system might work:
- Two people are supposedly near each other for a period of time, say 10 minutes. Their phones exchange the anonymous identifiers (which change every 15 minutes).
- After a while, one of them is diagnosed with COVID-19 and enters it into the system via a Public Health Authority app that has integrated into the API.
- With extra consent, the diagnosed user allows his anonymous identifiers in the last 14 days to be transmitted to the system.
- The person they came into contact with, too has a Public Health app on their phone that downloads the broadcast keys of positive tests and alerts them that they got a match.
- The app gives them more information on how to proceed from there.
Privacy and transparency
Both Apple and Google claimed that privacy and transparency are paramount in a public health effort like this, and have agreed that they are committed to shipping a system that does not compromise personal privacy in any way. Thie ACLU, has cautioned that any use of cell phone tracking to track the spread of COVID-19 would need aggressive privacy controls.
“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,” Apple said in its statement.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said that he plans plans to implement Apple and Google’s new system as way to ease out of its shelter-in-place order — the first state to announce a partnership with the two tech companies so far. The new system will rely heavily on its partnerships with local governments to ensure broader participation.
Newsom said in a press conference Friday, “We look forward to continuing to build that capacity and partnership, and that is also part of the planning exercise as we see some light and we see a future where we’re not all permanently in this current state stay-at-home order.”
So what are your thoughts on this? Do you think this new tool will help trace more coronavirus patients? Do let us know in the comments below.