Apple and Google Announce New Contact Tracing Apps To Slow Spread Of COVID-19

Published on April 10, 2020

With most states under shelter in place orders throughout the country, people are left wondering what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to being out and about. Apple and Google announced in a joint press release on Friday that they would be rolling out new contact tracing applications that would anonymously trace the contact of smartphone users to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The apps will use low-energy Bluetooth technology to create a “key” each time someone comes into close contact with another smartphone user also enrolled in the program. If one user tests positive for the virus, they can then alert health officials through the app, which will then alert every device that came into contact with the infected person.

‘Contact tracing’ will be made through low power Bluetooth technology taken from apps released by Apple and Google.

The companies, working closely with the United States Government, will work to keep track of those that have been confirmed to have COVID-19 through the health apps. Healthcare officials will be given access to the data, which will keep track of the proximity between phones to monitor who may come into contact with a confirmed case.

Users will be able to share whether or not they’ve contracted the virus with health officials, who can then send a notification to every other phone that came within a certain distance of a confirmed case within a window of time. The companies revealed that this will be a way for health officials to track the spread of the virus, while being able to notify in real time who may have come into contact with an existing COVID-19 patient.

Since most people’s first question is ‘is this private?’ both Apple and Google are striving to remain transparent.

The concept does not come without its own risks, though, as many are concerned for their privacy and the possible risks involved with allowing health officials and government organizations to track the locations of individual people. Both companies have assured the public that the information about what they’re doing will remain transparent.

“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze,” said both Google and Apple in a joint statement that was released on Friday.

Rather than share a users information and identity, the app will work to keep patient anonymity while sharing information to a cloud-based platform through a key code that changes every 15 minutes to further protect the individuals’ information. When a user reports that they’ve tested positive for the virus, healthcare officials and other users that have recently come into contact with the individual will only be given an alert, rather than information about who it was they’ve come into contact with.

Contact tracing has been proven effective in many places.

Contact tracing has proven to be effective in countries that have curbed the outbreak in major ways. In China, individuals that have either recovered from the disease or tested negative after a period of quarantine or self isolation have been issued a “green light” notification on a government-issued app.

The notification lets government and health officials know that they are not at-risk of spreading the disease, enabling those people to travel freely around the country and within their respective communities. As the government lifted the travel ban on people coming in and out of Wuhan recently, the program has proven to be an effective way of assuring that the virus is contained.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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