Apple & Google Build A Smartphone Tool To Track COVID-19

Tech giants Apple and Google are teaming up to create a system that would let smartphone users know when they’ve come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

The technology could be used on both Google Android phones and Apple iPhones. The technology would depend on the Bluetooth signals that smartphones can both send out and receive. 

Apple and Google are introducing their contact-tracing technology in 2 steps. They will release software in mid-May that will let public health authorities build apps that exchange information via Bluetooth.

The companies will update their operating systems in the coming months, so phones can share information without having to install an app.

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they could notify public health authorities through an app. Those public health apps would then alert anyone whose smartphones had come near the infected person’s phone in the prior 14 days.

Apple and Google both insist that they will preserve smartphone users’ privacy. Smartphone users must opt-in to use it. The software will not collect data on users’ physical locations or their personally identifiable information. 

People who test positive would remain unidentified, both to the people who came in contact with them and to Apple and Google. So as not to panic about it.

Apple and Google both in a joint statement said, “Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort.”

The ACLU(American Civil Liberties Union) has warned that using cellphone data to address the pandemic carries risks of “invasions of privacy, abuse, and stigmatization.”

In a statement on Friday, ACLU surveillance and cybersecurity counsel Jennifer Granick said, “No contact tracing app can be fully effective until there is widespread, free, and quick testing and equitable access to healthcare. These systems also can’t be effective if people don’t trust them.”

She said that the joint Apple and Google project “appears to cause the worst privacy and centralization risks, but there is still room for improvement.”

She added that contact tracing apps should be “voluntary and decentralized, and used only for public health purposes and only for the duration of this pandemic.”

Google and Apple say their technology will be used only by public health authorities to trace the spread of COVID-19.

Apple & Google Build A Smartphone Tool To Track

Public health officials say successful contact tracing — finding people who have been in contact with an infected person — will be a key step in lifting shelter-in-place restrictions. 

Contact tracing would allow people who are known to have been exposed to the virus to quarantine or isolate themselves while letting others resume normal activities.

A team at MIT(Massachusetts Institute of Technology) also has been working on a contact-tracing system that similarly uses Bluetooth signals to identify when people have come near each other.

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