Google and Apple are teaming up to create a Coronavirus (Covid-19) Tracking Tool App. On April 10th, 2020, Google and Apple announced that they are currently working on an app that could alert people if they have been exposed to the coronavirus. By using a Bluetoothed based Covid-19 contact platform app they could alert others that may have been exposed to Covid-19. A huge component to end the pandemic contact tracing and “stay and home” orders. This is not to replace the traditional methods like interviews but to use phone tracking that will help contain the spread of the virus.
Google and Apple are using Bluetooth LE signals for contact tracing, using this technology, when two people are near each other their phones can exchange an anonymous identification key, alerting them that they have had close contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19. Don’t worry this is to be completely anonymous through the Covid-19 app. This will help those people, if necessary, to self quarantine themself or their family. The patient with the positive Covid-19 test will not have to reveal their name, location or other personal data.
I know there are a lot of questions about how people will actually use the system but here is what we currently know.
- There will be 2 phases of this app roll-out.
- The first phase is App-based and it starts sometime in May.
- It will start with an application programing interface (API)
- This API will ensure iOS and Android apps can trace users regardless of their operating system.
- It will be restricted to official apps released by public health authorities on the Google Play Store and iOS App Store.
- You will need one of these apps to participate in the program for the first phase roll-out.
- We currently don’t know what the apps will look like or who Google and Apple are working with for this App.
- From what we do know App A and App B will be able to talk to each other making them interoperable.
- It is possible that we could see a national government or lots of small local agencies launch their own apps.
- Governments could approve something built by an outside party like a university.
- Google and Apple have yet to nail down the specifics as of yet but we should hear more in the next few weeks.
- You will have to protectively add them to your phone regardless of what the app looks like. Google and Apple in the months after they launch the App will have to work on a more permanent solution.
The second phase of the app will add an opt-in tracking to both Android and iOS systems. Google and Apple, following the API, want to add contact tracing as a core iOS and Android feature. Currently they are a little vague but the goal is that you would opt-in through your phone’s settings and this would turn-on the digital key-swapping without requiring a 3rd party app. If you are exposed to Covid-19 then your phone would signal this somehow and notify you to urgently download an app for further information.
We do not know much regarding the handoff process as of yet. Like:
- Do you get a vague pop-up notification or something with more detail?
- How will Android’s fragmented ecosystem complicate the release?
- Google could push a fast update through Play Store instead of waiting for carriers to roll it out.
- It would still be dealing with huge variations of hardware capability.
- Will individual Governments have their own apps and will it have more invasive permissions like location tracking. Even if Google and Apple’s core system doesn’t use it.
If you do not have a phone with a Bluetooth LE capability none of these apps will work. However, the Android platform added support in 2012 and Apple included support in 2011 for the iPhone 4S. If you have an older phone than those specified then you may want to cash into your free upgrade, in which most mobile phone companies have currently.
More about the specifics in the next blog.