Apple and Google say they’ll work together to trace spread of coronavirus via smartphones

Apple and Google say they'll work together to trace spread of coronavirus via smartphones

Trace the Coronavirus via Smartphones

In rare cooperation, Google and Apple will team up to track spread of coronavirus with smartphone tech

New tools could enable people and health authorities to track the virus using bluetooth proximity data from their smartphones.

By David Ingram

Apple and Google announced a partnership Friday to try to use technology to trace the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The two companies, usually fierce rivals, said they would work together in the coming weeks to build new tools that would enable people and health authorities to track the virus using Bluetooth proximity data from their smartphones.

“We hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life,” the two companies said in a rare joint statement.

Outside experts had been pleading with the two companies to join forces in just such an effort because of their unique position controlling the operating systems for the vast majority of the phones in the U.S. and Europe.

The companies said they plan to openly publish information about their work for others to analyze, and they began Friday by releasing some draft materials.

“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,” they said in their statement.

Google and Apple said their work would come in two stages. In the first stage, next month, they plan to release a set of tools known as application programming interfaces (APIs) so that apps created by public health authorities could work on both iPhones and on phones that run Google’s Android operating system.

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Then, in the second stage over the coming months, the two companies would build a voluntary tracing system directly into their iOS and Android operating systems.

“This is a more robust solution than an API and 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,” the companies said.

Versions of coronavirus tracking apps already exist in China, Singapore, Israel and elsewhere, but efforts have been slower in the U.S. and Europe, because of concerns about privacy and because “contact tracing” must be combined with widespread testing in order to work.

The idea is that an app could remember, via anonymous Bluetooth signals, which other phones have been nearby. If someone you had coffee with two days ago tests positive for the coronavirus, you would get a notification along the lines of “you may have recently been exposed” — and advising temporary isolation. – NBCNEWS

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