Apple, Google detail coronavirus contact tracing system with privacy at its core

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Apple and Google join forces using Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19. Apple & Google gives specifics of their contact tracing system it is developing to better track and protect people from COVID-19.
Photo: Apple/Google

Apple and Google have given further details on their plans for a joint contact tracing technology to combat coronavirus, saying the program will focus on privacy, will be voluntary, and that data will only be shared with public health organizations.

In a Monday press briefing, the companies said that to ensure privacy and accuracy, users will be required to show proof that they are infected in order to guarantee the accuracy of data for its users and health organizations. 

bluetooth-tracingBluetooth tracing is an anonymous way to assess exposure to COVID-19.
Photo: Apple/Google

API to be part of the initial system

The project will begin with both companies issuing a developer API to public health organizations that will be part of their contact tracing apps. Some months later, the plan is for the apps not to be needed and for data to be reported directly from functionality built into the iOS and Android operating systems, the companies revealed.

When operational, Google said the technology will use Bluetooth to track a user’s location and their proximity to others. A user of the system will have to agree to share details if they test positive for COVID-19, but that the identity of a person will not be transmitted to anyone.

The data will then be shared with a server that will process the data together with that of others. If a user opts not to share data, it will be stored locally on their mobile phone.

bluetooth-tracingBecause the data is private, users’ will probably never know who they got COVID-19 from.
Photo: Apple/Google

If a match is found, a user will be alerted that he or she has been near someone else infected with the virus. 

Apple and Google reiterated that the system has been built with “privacy, transparency and user control” in mind and that location details transmitted via Bluetooth will be change every few days to ensure users they are not being tracked.

Apple and Google said the first phase of the contact tracing rollout will occur in mid-May, with an update to run the system directly through the operating system on the mobile phone going into effect some months later.

On Friday, the two companies announced the contact tracing solutions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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