Apple and Google are building a COVID 19 tracking app into iOS and Android
Apple and Google are jointly building software into iPhone and Android devices to help track the spread of coronavirus by allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations. The new project is slated for release in May.
On Friday, Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations.
The new system, which is laid out in a series of documents and white papers, would use short-range Bluetooth communications to establish a voluntary contact-tracing network, keeping extensive data on phones that have been in close proximity with each other. Official apps from public health authorities will get access to this data, and users who download them can report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. The system will also alert people who download them to whether they were in close contact with an infected person.
Medical experts know that contact tracing is vital to public health during disease outbreaks. The technique has been one key to the success of countries like South Korea in turning back the tide of the pandemic inside their own borders. This Silicon Valley effort will be one of the biggest American attempts to closely track the spread of coronavirus. Crucially, it is not the national coronavirus surveillance system that the White House was reportedly seeking.
To build the voluntary contact tracing network, the new tech will rely on Bluetooth, typically used for short-distance communication between devices. When you test positive for the virus, you enter that information into an app on your phone, and other people who have been near you in the previous 14 days are alerted. Your own information remains private.
Contact tracing — which involves figuring out who an infected person has been in contact with and trying to prevent them from infecting others — is one of the most promising solutions for containing COVID-19, but using digital surveillance technology to do it raises massive privacy concerns and questions about effectiveness. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns about tracking users with phone data, arguing that any system would need to be limited in scope and avoid compromising user privacy.
Unlike some other methods — like, say, using GPS data — this Bluetooth plan wouldn’t track people’s physical location. It would basically pick up the signals of nearby phones at 5-minute intervals and store the connections between them in a database. If one person tests positive for the novel coronavirus, they could tell the app they’ve been infected, and it could notify other people whose phones passed within close range in the preceding days.