On April 10th, Apple and Google announced a joint partnership to build a mobile COVID-19 contact-tracing system. This system is voluntary, anonymous, and interoperable between iOS and Android devices. Come April 28th, Apple and Google will release its contact-tracing APIs for development by approved app makers.
To be clear, Apple and Google are not releasing any contact-tracing apps. Instead, the companies are releasing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for health authorities to generate their own apps, or to license app development to private companies. It sounds like a lot of extra work, but APIs should (theoretically) keep Google and Apple from mining our personal data, and will enable each global power (the US, the EU, etc) to participate in contact-tracing without violating its regional digital privacy laws.
But Apple and Google aren’t done yet. APIs are just the first step in the contact-tracing game plan. Over the next few months, Apple and Google will develop a Bluetooth-based tracing platform that’s baked into mobile operating systems. Both companies emphasize that the contact-tracing program is voluntary, anonymous, and secure. In the join contact-tracing whitepaper, Apple and Google mention that they will “openly publish information about our work for others to analyze,” although it isn’t clear how the companies plan to follow this promise.
Apple and Google’s contact tracing platform is currently ahead of schedule. The companies initially predicted that their APIs would release in May, not the end of April. At this rate, we should prepare ourselves to see contract-tracing apps in the next month or two. Contact-tracing is a major moment in tech history and a potential boon to the fight against COVID-19. And while Apple and Google’s commitment to privacy is assuring, it’s up to governments to use contact-tracing tools properly.