Apple, Google team up to work on COVID-19 contact tracing tech
iOS, Android devices to be made inter-operable via apps across an API that Apple and Google are working on right now.
As governments and health authorities from across the world work together to find solutions to the Covid-19 pandemic, software developers have been doing their bit by creating technical tools to help the process. The latest collaboration for the cause is the one between Google and Apple.
Announced today, both Google and Apple will be working together 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".
Since Covid-19 is transmitted via close proximity to those who have been infected, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool that can help control the spread of the virus. Many public health authorities, NGOs and universities around the globe are already working on developing opt-in contact tracing tech.
To help public health officials slow the spread of #COVID19, Google & @Apple are working on a contact tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy. @tim_cook and I are committed to working together on these efforts.https://t.co/T0j88YBcFu— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 10, 2020
Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes "application programming interfaces (API) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing".
Since the need is urgent, the "plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy", Apple explained in the press release. Given that Apple is big on privacy, this decision is not surprising in the least.
For starters, come May, both the companies will be releasing APIs that will "enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities". These will be official apps that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Post that in the months to follow, Apple and Google will be working on enabling a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by "building this functionality into the underlying platforms".
Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We're working with @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent. https://t.co/94XlbmaGZV— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 10, 2020
"This is a more robust solution than an API," explained Apple, adding that it "would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities".
Apple stressed that "privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort" and that they are looking forward to "building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders".
"We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze," Apple said.
To better understand how contact tracing is going to work, you can take a look at this.
Both Apple and Google have released draft technical documentation including Bluetooth specifications, Cryptography specifications and framework documentation that all app developers across iOS and Android can use to prepare their apps to work on the cross-platform API that Apple and Google are going to release in May.