Today, Apple and Google announced a joint partnership to build a contact-tracing system. The idea is to track the spread of COVID-19 through the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations.
The two companies released a series of white papers detailing the new system, its methods, and its goals. Protecting privacy is paramount for the system to work well; without those reassurances, users won’t opt-in.
Protecting privacy is an advantage of using Bluetooth connections over GPS. The latter tracks your location, but Bluetooth doesn’t. Instead, apps and devices will connect and keep track of those connections (contact-tracing)
When someone uses a health app to report they are infected, the apps and system will notice anyone else that came in contact with the person recently. The message won’t reveal identification, just that an exposure contact may have occurred.
Apple and Google are taking other steps to preserve anonymity, including broadcasting an anonymous key over Bluetooth rather than a static identity. Those keys cycle every 15 minutes to protect privacy further.
To help public health officials slow the spread of #COVID19, Google & @Apple are working on a contact tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy. @tim_cook and I are committed to working together on these efforts.https://t.co/T0j88YBcFu
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 10, 2020
In a joint statement, Apple and Google said, “All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems. 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.”
The companies will release APIs next month that will allow for interoperability between iOS and Android devices when using public health apps. Health care professionals who use those apps will be able to download them in the App Store and Google Play Store.