In an unprecedented move, Google and Apple have joined forces to develop an app that can track people’s exposure to the Coronavirus. The tech giants are known to be fierce rivals, so their decision to work together to trace this virus highlights the severity of this pandemic.
How it Works
The way the app works is it will log the smartphones of people who you come into contact with to trace the spread of the disease. If you are infected, you report it to the app and that helps the data-trace the spread. Once you report to the app that you have been infected, the app will notify every device you have been in contact with, allowing people to watch how the virus spreads. “Public-health authorities have said that improved tracking of infected people and their contacts could slow the pandemic, especially at the start of an outbreak.”
The system runs through Bluetooth and the phones will exchange anonymous keys that they store for 14 days. If in that time, someone is infected, everyone who has exchanged keys with that phone in the last 14 days will be notified. One of the key things about this software is that it will not trace your actual location, just every phone you have been near long enough to potentially catch the virus.
Of course, the issue of privacy has come up with this app, since the two largest tech companies in the world would be able to track everyone using the app, but the tech giants have devised a way to avoid that. In addition to only logging the person and not the location, “the companies will now also be encrypting any metadata associated with specific Bluetooth signals, including the strength of signal and other info.” This is an additional step to protect the identity of people who are logged by the system.
“As part of their efforts to entice people, Apple and Google have promised to dismantle the system when the coronavirus crisis passes. That will include shutting down the application programming interface, or API, built to work with public health apps being built.”
Google and Apple recently released documents that give details about how the program will work and the privacy measures they have put in place.
One issue that they are currently looking into is how to stop people from reporting false positives to the app, which can badly skew the results. A proposal Google and Apple are currently considering is “to have hospitals and test centers issue special, authorized QR codes with each positive test result. Then, people who receive the code could scan it as part of their self-reporting in the tech platforms’ contact tracing system. That approach could limit false positives, experts say.”
Another issue is there is not enough testing being conducted, so without that, the app is not going to be completely effective. There also needs to be millions of people who are willing to opt-in on the app, which would require the privacy measures the companies are working on.
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Fung, Brian. “Apple and Google Want Your Phone to Become a Coronavirus Tracking Device. Can It Really Work?” CNN, Cable News Network, 15 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/04/15/tech/google-apple-coronavirus-tracker/index.html.
Nicas, Jack, and Daisuke Wakabayashi. “Apple and Google Team Up to ‘Contact Trace’ the Coronavirus.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/10/technology/apple-google-coronavirus-contact-tracing.html.
“Privacy-Preserving Contact Tracing – Apple and Google.” Apple, www.apple.com/covid19/contacttracing/.
Sherr, Ian. “Apple, Google’s Plan to Track Coronavirus with Our Phones Has New Privacy Features.” CNET, CNET, 28 Apr. 2020, www.cnet.com/news/apple-google-update-coronavirus-tracking-tech-to-address-privacy-concerns/.