Google and Apple are working together to defeat the coronavirus, introducing the coronavirus tracking app, a new set of tools that could soon reach most mobile phones worldwide.
The new technology, highlighted in white papers on Friday released by Google and Apple, relies on Bluetooth wireless radio technology to help mobile phones connect each other, potentially warning users about people who have meet coronavirus contaminated.
Google and Apple are expected to release these tools soon in May so that public health authorities can use the touch tracking technology. The companies then intend to integrate them directly into iOS and Android apps to help more people connect to them in the coming months.
“Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments, and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID‑19 and accelerate the return of everyday life,” Google and Apple said in a joint statement.
The efforts of Google and Apple is the latest by the tech companies to minimize the effects of the novel coronavirus. The pandemic has prompted almost all Americans to take cover to help control the spread of the virus and reduce the burden on hospitals.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet that the new initiative “respects transparency and consent.” ON FRIDAY, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke about the project on Twitter and said the two companies “are committed to working together on these efforts.”
Major technology companies in specific have been working on coronavirus projects since it first hit. Verily, Google’s parent company Alphabet’s life sciences launched a website last month that provides information about virus testing to people in California. Established in conjunction with the White House, the site helps people fill in symptoms and complete an online screener.
Google announced last month that it is investing more than $800 million to help small companies and crisis responders fighting against the pandemic coronavirus. Both Google and Apple have also started to produce and distribute safety equipment for health care professionals.
Now, with this latest coronavirus tracking app, Silicon Valley’s biggest competitors are aiming to help develop an app that will help us recover a sense of normalcy. At the same time, we await a vaccine or other ways to combat the virus.
Both companies have said in a joint statement that “All of us at Google and Apple believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems.”
Contact tracing Support
Google and Apple’s technology is intended to support contact tracking, which has traditionally been a manual procedure in which healthcare professionals manually dig through a patient’s history to find out what they were close to and may have been exposed to infection.
Possibly, apps could speed up this process. People identified as having coronavirus in an app on their phone may then send warnings wirelessly to everyone they come into contact with, possibly causing people to take extra precautions or self-quarantine to slow down further virus transmission.
Another similar project is an MIT-led initiative called PACT (Private Automated contact tracing) using a similar method to the one used by Google and Apple. With it, healthcare approved infected people could upload their phone’s digital IDs, and others could search the database to see if there is a correlation with any of their phone’s registered IDs. Many touch monitoring apps have also been developed to deal with the pandemic, including COVID-19 Watch and Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing.
State and local governments also seem to warm up to these proposals. But there are many possible questions about privacy still exist. The American Civil Liberties Union cautioned earlier this week in a report that contact tracing apps could lead to increased government scrutiny, mainly if data is not kept safe. The organization also mentioned that GPS and Bluetooth signals could often be unreliable or untrustworthy, further muddling the efficacy of such apps.
The Private Automated contact tracing team is aware of the obstacles, starting with getting Android and Apple phones to communicate securely, said Ron Rivest, a leading PACT and cryptography expert renowned for helping to develop the groundbreaking and commonly used RSA encryption technologies. With Bluetooth, it can be hard to measure range, and the results differ depending on the smartphone’s orientation.
“People can trust these systems only if they protect privacy, remain voluntary, and store data on the computer of a person, not a centralized server,” said Jennifer Granick, an ACLU supervisory and cybersecurity lawyer. And, she added, many of these issues don’t even involve broader problems, such as supporting people who don’t have access to new devices that could drive those initiatives.
To know if the technology of Google and Apple is accurate, we would have to wait until both companies start sharing it publicly. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s online privacy campaign acknowledged that both companies emphasized the people’s consent and secure data as part of the initiative. “We appreciate that Apple and Google have made a commitment to protecting privacy,” said Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and lead lawyer at the EFF.