Apple and Google Unite to Help Officials Track Coronavirus

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( — April 28, 2020) — The tech giants have announced that both companies will update their systems with security and privacy enhancements to trace COVID-19, as requested by governments and health authorities worldwide.

Public Health Officials Mobile Apps

Apple and Google announced that modifications would enable iOS and Android phones to trace the spread of the coronavirus through new technology. When this process will be completed, it will then be possible to use contact tracing apps on both systems, which will be found in both Apple and Google’s app stores. These apps will not be created by either company. At the end of last week, it is worth noting that there was a slight change in wording as both companies went from calling the new capability of the phone from “contact tracing” to “exposure notification.”

The tech giants will only distribute the apps that have been built and deployed by public health officials. These apps will be able to track all cell phone users, and if one crosses paths with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus, he/she will be immediately notified of a potential exposure. The system will use Bluetooth short-range wireless technology, which is already inside the two operating systems. Each country will use a different app. If you want to know more about development on this subject and other news from France, click here.

What Technical Changes Will Be Done to Their Systems?

There are three important changes that will modify Google and Apple’s systems which are:

  • Both systems will be able to communicate and share the strength and duration of a Bluetooth signal. This is how the app will be able to decide if someone has been in close enough contact to another with the COVID-19 virus in order to inform them of this situation.
  • They will be able to alert phone users regarding when they might have been exposed.
  • The security of the system regarding Bluetooth metadata and random keys will be improved.

As of now, a few digitally focused contact tracing programs have been officially announced in the United States where public health is a function held by counties and states. In Europe, although multiple countries have indicated that they are working on such apps, no government has yet given a release date. Most specialists expect them to come out throughout the month of May.

Privacy Questions Raised

However, for the apps to work at all time on the phones, adjustments will have to be made. Otherwise, they’ll need to stay active constantly, and that would drain the phone’s battery rapidly, basically making the app useless. For that reason, governments from various countries (including France and Germany) have asked Apple to remove some of the privacy provisions. According to them, it is the only way they will be able to build a functional app that would be able to connect to a centralized database, so that government agents could get in touch with those who may have been exposed.

Right now, the Apple system would only alert individuals to let them know of the danger while keeping their identity private. In that regard, a representative from Apple said the company did not intend to loosen the privacy provisions as they were built exactly for that reason: To protect the user’s privacy.