Google, Apple promise to encrypt data from contact-tracing tech

Amid privacy concerns about contact tracing plans related to the coronavirus, Apple and Google announced new protections to their systems on Friday.

Google and Apple said randomly generated numbers will be assigned to people who need to be contacted through the system, and that metadata — like Bluetooth signal strength and device information — will be encrypted, according to Reuters.

Contact tracing is an epidemiological technique that health professionals use to track down anyone an infected patient has come in contact with. That way, those individuals can be tested or quarantined as well, hopefully stopping the spread of the virus.

Apple and Google are bringing a tech twist to contact tracing, alerting people via an app if they’ve been near someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.  The system would utilize Bluetooth technology to determine to whom users have been exposed.

Google and Apple’s APIs, or application programming interfaces, could be used for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) app or one from another health agency, who would gather the information to push alerts to anyone who’s been in the vicinity of someone with the virus.

Some health and privacy researchers expressed concern about how the data will be used. The tech giants said other measures, like clocking “exposure time” in intervals of 5 minutes, would add extra privacy to the data by preventing health officials from seeing exact timestamps.

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