Google And Apple Updates Technical Details Of The COVID-19 Contact Tracing Technology To Be Rolled Out Next Month

  • The COVID-19 contact tracing technology uses Bluetooth data instead of GPS location, and the most sensitive data is stored in a decentralized way.
  • The said approach caused a rift with European Government planning systems.
  • The companies also addressed health and privacy researcher’s concerns.

On Friday, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google provided technical details of their upcoming COVID-19 contact tracing technology, which was originally announced on April 10. The companies plan to roll out the new contact tracing system next month and stated that the new features would strengthen the security protection of the system. Google and Apple also said that the new features would provide health officials with more detailed data.

The coronavirus contact tracing technology will use the Bluetooth system to help authorities to create the relevant apps. These apps will alert the users if they have been near a patient who was tested positive for the coronavirus.

The coronavirus contact tracing system uses Bluetooth technology instead of GPS location data, and the most sensitive data is stored on the user’s smartphone in a decentralized way. This approach caused a rift with European governments who were planning systems supposed to save data on centralized servers.

The applications built by those European governments will not work correctly without the contact tracing tech being created by Apple and Google. For example, the apps developed by those governments may not work properly if the phone’s screen is locked.

Google and Apple also addressed health officials and security researchers’ privacy concerns. The companies made it hard to track users through the data generated from the coronavirus contact tracing systems. The system will randomly generate numbers that will analyze the users. The companies also said that the ‘metadata’ like Bluetooth Signal power and user’s smartphone models would be encrypted together with primary information about who the users have been in close proximity with.

‘Exposure time’ is the duration two smartphones have been near to each other. The companies said that this exposure time would be rounded to 5-minute intervals, which will help prevent usage of detailed time information from matching up smartphones to users.

Researchers highlighted a concern that the contact tracing technology will be inefficient as the Bluetooth signals penetrate through walls and other objects, which might not necessarily help spread the coronavirus. They also said that the Bluetooth signals are also detected even if they are fragile, which means that the contact tracing system may also pop up false alerts from passers-by in public places.

Google and Apple addressed these concerns and announced that they will now provide Bluetooth Strength levels data to help better determine how close two smartphones have been to each other and the exposure time. This data will allow the authorities to set their thresholds for when to alert the users.

Google and Apple will also provide authorities the data on how many days had passed a user came in contact with an infected person. This will help the authorities to guide the users in a better way.

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