The Brief: Apple and Google are collaborating to create a Bluetooth-based tracking system to locate contacts who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
On April 10, Apple and Google announced that they’re working on technology that uses Bluetooth to track people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The idea behind this technology is to utilize the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions that occur between smartphones to locate and inform individuals who have recently been in contact with someone who tested positive for Coronavirus. This collaboration between the two tech giants includes plans to work directly with health organizations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent. https://t.co/94XlbmaGZV
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 10, 2020
The system would be based on voluntary contact tracing, allowing someone who tests positive for COVID-19 to opt-in to anonymously send notifications to phones that were recently in close-proximity with theirs. In spite of the measures Apple and Google are ostensibly taking, consumers have raised privacy concerns about how their data will be used, with suspicions about giving location and health information to these companies.
The effectiveness of Bluetooth-based contact tracing at preventing the spread of COVID-19 is not yet clear, but this technology will be a significant step in putting some kind of system in place.
Apple and Google are planning to introduce APIs in mid-May and then ensure that they work with apps from health authorities. Although this program is set to start out as a separate app, Google and Apple say they’ll later work on adding them to iOS and Android operating systems.