Recently, Google and Apple announced that they were partnering up to create a contact tracing system that will work on both Android and iOS. This system will be alerting people once they have had contact with a person who has contacted COVID-19.
This collaboration between the two largest smartphone manufacturers will help the health officials to effectively track the spread of COVID-19 while not violating the privacy of the user.
The two companies said this in a joint press statement, which stated that they are working a two-step approach that will help health organizations track the spread of COVID-19. The system will essentially track interactions between a phone user once he is diagnosed with coronavirus, and everyone they had interacted with will be notified as long he/she has consented to be involved.
To help public health officials slow the spread of #COVID19, Google & @Apple are working on a contact tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy. @tim_cook and I are committed to working together on these efforts.https://t.co/T0j88YBcFu— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 10, 2020
According to a statement, “Both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between iOS and Android using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.” The second step will be to “enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform.”
The system will work if two people have contact with each other, and their phone exchange certain identifier keys. If a person gets diagnosed with COVID-19, then with their consent, their phones will broadcast an anonymous message that will inform every user that has the key stored over the last 14 days.
The idea behind the system is to inform the people who might have been exposed, thus prompting them to self-quarantine and possibly get tested. They will, however, try to maintain the user’s privacy and consent as much as possible.
The identifier keys don’t require any app to operate, and they would exchange after about 15 minutes. Identifiers from other devices will be processed within the device, Apple stated in its white paper. Both companies emphasized that the user will have to consent for the tracking system to work.
It is quite exciting seeing these two large smartphone companies work together. They stated on a press release that, “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 APIs will be rolled out in May 2020, and a broader contact tracing system is expected to be rolled out in the coming months.
A new mobile application called TraceTogether was launched on Mar 20 to support ongoing contact tracing efforts amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore. The app developed by GovTech uses Bluetooth to do contact tracing. The app operates by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between smartphones to detect other users of the app who are in close proximity. Current MOH (Ministry of Health) guidelines define close proximity as two meters apart, or up to five meters, for 30 minutes.