A fortnight ago, Apple and Google announced that they were working on software that would help with contact tracing for Coronavirus;
In this spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.Google Blog post
In that announcement post, Google shared that in May they would provide APIs that “enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities”. It seems these APIs will be released on the 28th of April now and with time being of the essence speeding up the process will be welcome.
This revelation comes on the back of Tim Cook’s meeting with the European Commissioner Thierry Breton;
The meeting between the delegate and the executive was focused on privacy with the technology being released supposed to be in line with European privacy laws.
How will the app work?
Once you update your phone to the latest version of the operating system, and opt in to the contact tracing API, your phone will begin sending out Bluetooth signals to nearby phones and recording signals sent to it by other phones.
It’s not clear how the software updates will be handled on Android which is pretty terrible when it comes to those. Anyway The Verge further explains that the contact tracing will work retroactively meaning “once a user downloads an app tied to this system it will share your proximity events from the past 14 days”.
By creating a central API across our two major smartphone operating systems, Apple and Google are providing a valuable tool for public health agencies working on contact tracing apps that will work across jurisdictions around the world, even as people begin to resume travel. It’s hard to imagine something like this being done in any way but at the level of the operating system; only these two companies could make something like this possible
It seems, even users without public health apps might get notifications regarding potential exposure but that’s not confirmed as fact. If it is the case it makes the tech exponentially more useful. If it relies on people downloading applications then you can easily see how there’ll be a huge gap simply because millions of people over the world didn’t/couldn’t download the app.
Health apps will also reportedly be able to select what counts as a proximity event – meaning if you come in close enough contact with a COVID-19 infected individual you’ll be notified.
This is all experimental so no one really knows how impactful all this will be but other countries have actually used manual contact tracing which has been criticised as not being effective enough in certain cases.