One way to track the spread of COVID-19 across a population is through contact tracing. Apple and Google today announced a “joint effort” that leverages Bluetooth on Android and iOS devices to “help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus.”
The two companies are launching a “comprehensive solution” for contract tracing that encompasses “application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.”
This is an alternative to relying on location data approaches from carriers and other telecom companies that some countries around the world have already implemented.
Based on these upcoming tools, governments will be able to build apps that work across Android and iOS. These APIs will be available by May, and those “official apps” from public health agencies can be downloaded through Google Play and the App Store.
A second joint effort is focused on creating a “broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.”
This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities
Both companies in their joint press release this morning are heavily focused on the privacy angle. Key points include:
- Explicit user consent required
- Doesn’t collect personally identifiable information or user location data
- List of people you’ve been in contact with never leaves your phone
- People who test positive are not identified to other users, Google or Apple
- Will only be used for contact tracing by public health authorities for COVID-19 pandemic management
Today, they released draft technical documentation about the Bluetooth and cryptography specifications and framework: