Apple and Google Are Working On A System Together To Track And Fight COVID-19 Pandemic

Technology fans around the world were always sure about one fact and that was how Google and Apple might never work together as one. Both the giants have always been regarded as competitors who can do anything for profits, but certainly, COVID-19 crisi is making the impossible happen.

According to a recent announcement made by both the companies, Apple and Google are working on a system that will track the spread of coronavirus. The tracker will allows the users to have the liberty to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions.

Released in a series of documentation and white papers, the new system will work with short-range Bluetooth communications that will create contact tracing network while also keeping the data stored on phones which might have come close to each other. The apps authorized by public health officials will then be able to see the data that can become more useful when the person diagnosed with COVID-19 will report in the app about a person being positive. Hence further, if others have also downloaded the app, they will get instant notification upon coming close to any such person who is infected.

Apple and Google are first planning to introduce a pair of iOS and Android APIs somewhere in the middle of May, just so that health authorities apps can include them as soon as possible. However, in the months after that, both of the tech giants are also planning to include the tracing functionality an integral part of its operating systems, so that in the longer run everyone with an iOS or Android phone should be equipped with the facility.

As contact tracing does seem a very promising solution to fight against COVID-19, but the fact of digital surveillance that comes attached with the technique will also raise massive privacy concerns for the users. In fact, this worry has already been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union with the argument of limiting the scope of tracking users with phone data.

But fortunately enough, that would no longer stand as a concern with Bluetooth plan being used instead of GPS. The Bluetooth will basically identify phones at five minutes intervals and then store the connection in the database. Hence, if one person tests positive for COVID-19, he can inform the app about his health condition and anyone passes by his phone will eventually be notified about him being infected for greater protection.

Moreover, the system will also make sure that despite sharing their data, people won’t have their names identified. It will broadcast a key instead which will cycle after every 15 minutes to keep privacy. So, even when a person tells that he is infected, the app will only show keys from a specific period in which he was contagious.

The best part is that the central servers only will have control over the database of shared keys and maintain them rather than the interactions managing the keys on their own.

Despite the benefits being stated, this method has some major weaknesses as well. For instance, if one person is in a crowded area, the app might flag people who are in the adjacent room and making you worry without any serious threat. It won’t also be able to capture the nuance of how long some has been positive - which means that if you have been working with an infected person all day, you might then be at greater risk of carrying the viral load than just passing by the patient on the street.

Furthermore, its success also depends on apps in short term and up-to-date Apple and Google phones in times to come which becomes an impossible scenario for areas that are still not blessed with high connectivity.

Nevertheless, Apple and Google are still in talks with the public health authorities and stakeholders involved. Everyone knows that this can’t beat the traditional way of content tracing that revolved around interviewing infected people but it can definitely result in a high-tech supplement to be installed on phones which billions of people already own.

Read next: Facebook Helps The Coronavirus Researchers By Launching New Tools Providing The Location Data Of Its Users
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