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Explained: The contact tracing technology Apple and Google are jointly developing

Apple, Google team up against coronavirus: Contact tracing is considered essential for bringing epidemics under control, and is expected to help governments in relaxing lockdown orders.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: April 12, 2020 3:00:38 pm
Explained: The contact tracing technology Apple and Google are jointly developing Bluetooth-based contact tracing will soon be built into the Android and iOS platforms, and users would be able to use the feature without downloading an app.

Global technology giants Apple and Google have announced that they are partnering on developing contact tracing technology to help governments and health authorities tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a press release, the tech companies announced that they would build “a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.”

Contact tracing is considered essential for bringing epidemics under control, and is expected to help governments in relaxing lockdown orders.

Explained: What is contact tracing?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines contact tracing as the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission.

Via contact tracing, people who have come into contact with a person carrying a disease are alerted and identified.

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In its 2015 guidelines for contact tracing during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the WHO underlined the importance of the practice: “Identifying people at the onset of symptoms and promptly isolating them reduces exposure to other persons, preventing subsequent EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) infections. Additionally, prompt isolation and admission of the symptomatic person to a treatment facility decreases the delay to supportive treatment, which improves the likelihood of survival.”

How will the coronavirus new technology by Google and Apple work?

Google and Apple are the developers of the Android and iOS platforms respectively, which together power most of the world’s smartphones.

By May, both companies will release application programming interfaces (APIs) that would enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. The official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores, as per the press release.

When this step is realised, phone-based matching via official apps will help alert people if they have come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

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For this to work, COVID-19 patients would have to declare their status to the respective apps voluntarily. Following this, all people whose Android/iOS smartphones were detected nearby such patients, would get notified. This means, you will be notified even if you were around a stranger who has tested positive for the disease.

Apple, Apple-Google, Apple Google COVID-19, Apple Google Coronavirus tracking, Apple Google COVID tracking, Apple Google Coronavirus tracking feature A graphic shows how the person will receive an alert if they were in contact with a COVID-19 patient. (Image source: Apple and Google)

In the second step, which according to the press release is expected in the coming months, Bluetooth-based contact tracing will be built into the Android and iOS platforms, and users would be able to use the feature without downloading an app.

The features will become available in a future software update, and would cause a lesser strain on battery life than existing tracing systems, according to a BBC report.

“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 analyse,” the press release says.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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