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Business News/ Technology / News/  Apple, Google join hands to make Covid-19 contact tracing tech for smartphones
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Apple, Google join hands to make Covid-19 contact tracing tech for smartphones

The new software the companies plan to add to phones would make it easier to use Bluetooth wireless technology to track down people who may have been infected by coronavirus carriers

(Photo: AP)Premium
(Photo: AP)

New Delhi: Apple and Google are joining hands to create technology that leverages smartphones for contact tracing activities for Covid-19, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, CEOs of Apple and Google, respectively, announced via a press release. “Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy," the companies said in a blog post.

To build the technology, the two companies will be developing application program interfaces (APIs) that allow interoperability between Android and iOS, their respective operating systems. This will happen in May and will enable apps from public health authorities to function across the two platforms. “These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores," the companies said in a blog post.

The post said that “in the coming months" the two companies will then develop a Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform as well. It seems the companies want to make this part of their respective platforms instead of just developing standalone apps for them. “This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities," the post says.

According to a white paper published by the companies, Bluetooth-based contact tracing will require explicit user consent, doesn’t collect personally identifiable information or user location data, and the list of people you’ve been in contact with never leaves your phone. The paper also clarifies that the system will not identify people who test positive to other users, or the two companies.

The fact that Apple and Google are working together will make it easier for governments and other authorities to make contact tracing apps for smartphones. In addition, it allows Android phones and iPhones to interact with each other and exchange anonymous identifier beacons, which recognise when people have been close to each other.

While Apple and Google’s entry into the field is important, Bluetooth-based contact tracing isn’t particularly new at this point. Startups and other companies have also made such applications and privacy experts have raised questions around privacy with such applications.

The good thing with Bluetooth-based tracking is that it doesn’t note the user’s location. However, it’s still possible to find a phone’s unique ID, which can then be traced to the person who owns the phone. Anonymous identifier tokens are used to avoid this to some extent, but such systems still do hold the capability to track their users.

The white paper states that if a cCvid-19 patient inputs their data into the platform, and allows the same to be shared, it will use this data to alert others that they have been near an infected patient. The same will be done without telling others who the infected user is.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Prasid Banerjee
An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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Published: 11 Apr 2020, 12:00 AM IST
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