Apple and Google announced on Friday that they are working together to combat the COVID-19 pandemic with technology. Both companies are developing a system that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and collects data for governments and public health agencies to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2).
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
COVID-19 spreads through contact, and instead of using the smartphone’s GPS to track citizens’ locations, both will allow Android and iOS devices to connect via low-energy Bluetooth to exchange information related to citizens positively diagnosed for the disease.
Companies will release APIs that are part of the two-step solution. The first of these will take place in May, with the release of APIs that will allow interoperability between the two systems. Both companies will not have access to the collected data and the APIs will only be used by public health authorities.
The second stage, which will take place in the coming months, will enable the contact tracking platform, and then be incorporated into other underlying platforms, the companies report. That is, more government health applications and authorities will have access to the system.
In this way, contact tracing, which needs the user’s consent, can be used to identify and alert citizens. The system does not collect information that allows users to be identified, nor does it export the data to other tools that are not working in the same cause, for example.
Privacy and Security: Key Elements
For all this to work, Apple and Google have published an illustrated primer to detail how the partnership works. For data collection, citizens will need to download an application; this, in this case, will be offered by public health authorities, not by companies.
According to the companies, the tool is born “having privacy and user safety as central elements”. When the tool and applications become available, the user will need to download it and consent to give up their information. In this application, among others, the user will inform if it has been positively diagnosed for COVID-19.
This data is sent periodically every 14 days to the servers of public health entities. They are also periodically transmitted to other users, whether or not they have been in contact with someone tested positively and without identifying other people.
Key Schedule for Contact Tracing
Positively tested patients will not be identified or will have data shared with other people, nor with any of the companies. Only public health authorities will have access to the use and distribution of APIs.
“Privacy, transparency and consent are of the utmost importance in this effort, and we hope to build this functionality in constant consultation with society,” Apple and Google said in a statement.
Both pledged to publish information about the progress of the work “in an open way for others to analyze.” On Twitter, CEOs Tim Cook, Apple, and Sundar Pichai, Google, strengthened the partnership, support for health authorities, and positioning to ensure user privacy, data security, transparency and consent in the collection of information.
More Details: As part of this partnership, Google and Apple are releasing draft technical documentation including Bluetooth and cryptography specifications and framework documentation.