Apple, Google team up for coronavirus contact tracing

Apple and Google are partnering to create a new opt-in system that traces the spread of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, the tech giants announced Friday.

The system will use Bluetooth technology “with user privacy and security central to the design,” according to an Apple statement.

Data collected through the new system will then be shared with local public health authorities through iOS and Android APIs (application programming interfaces), which are planned to be released in May and will be downloadable in each respective app store. 

It works like this: Users who download the app can share their COVID-19 status with public health officials, who would then be able to use “contact-tracing” via the user’s short-range Bluetooth to notify those who passed within a specified range of possible exposure by tracking their phone’s data. 

Right now, the new system is entirely voluntary — meaning those who are interested in sharing their relatively precise location data with Google and Apple via the apps will be kept up to date on the spread of the coronavirus within their neighborhood. 

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After the APIs are released next month, Apple and Google plan to take the tracing system a step further, allowing shared user data to be available to a much more broad range of apps and government authorities for those who are already opted in. The two “will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms,” according to the statement.

“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,” Apple said in its statement.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state plans to implement Apple and Google’s new system as way to ease out of its shelter-in-place order — the first state to announce a partnership with the two tech companies so far. The new system will rely heavily on its partnerships with local governments to ensure broader participation.

Newsom said in a press conference Friday, “We look forward to continuing to build that capacity and partnership, and that is also part of the planning exercise as we see some light and we see a future where we’re not all permanently in this current state stay-at-home order.”

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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