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Apple and Google team up on Covid-19 tracking technology

The two companies will launch an API (or developer tool) in May that will “enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities.”

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Updated: April 11, 2020 8:38:26 am
Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus

Apple and Google, two of the most valuable tech firms, will help governments and health agencies track the spread of the coronavirus using Bluetooth technology. Both companies are launching a tracing tool for iOS and Android through which it would be easier to notify people via smartphone if they come into contact with someone with the Covid-19.

Both companies said they will release an API (or developer tool) in May that will “enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities.” The apps are set to be made available via the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store. Such a collaboration between the two tech giants, both running their own competing smartphones and operating systems, is unprecedented in more ways than one.

“Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design,” Apple and Google said in a joint statement. In the coming months, the two companies would natively build the system directly into their respective iOS and Android operating systems.

This is essentially a contact tracing method that would work by using the smartphone’s Bluetooth technology. If someone tests positive for the novel coronavirus, a warning would be sent to the smartphone owner. No GPS location data or personal information would be recorded.

“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,” the companies said.

Contact tracing apps have already being used in a number of countries including Singapore, China and South Korea. In India, the government recently launched a mobile app called Arogya Setu, a location-based coronavirus app. The app used the smartphone’s Bluetooth and GPS to alert users whenever they come in contact within six feet of a Covid-19 patient. The app is available in multiple regional languages.

Although the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has praised both companies for teaming up on contact tracing, the organization did raise privacy concerns about such systems. “We will remain vigilant moving forward to make sure any contact tracing app remains voluntary and decentralized, and used only for public health purposes and only for the duration of this pandemic,” Jennifer Granick, ACLU surveillance and cybersecurity counsel wrote in a statement.

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