Apple, Google roll out COVID-19 contact tracing software kit

Coronavirus Subway Train
Apple and Google do not plan to develop apps themselves, but will instead provide support to public health agencies. So far, they have been in touch with many U.S. states and more than 20 countries interested in the program. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Apple and Google are rolling out a software toolkit public health organizations and developers can use to build a connected network of smartphone apps, capable of quickly notifying people if they’ve had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19.

Available for both Android devices and iPhones, the API relies on each handheld’s Bluetooth radio to ping and detect other smartphones within a relatively short radius.

It would also rely on people opting in to the program, both to receive notifications and to privately report a positive coronavirus diagnosis. In a joint statement, Apple and Google said the software would not collect or use a phone’s GPS or location data.

“User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps,” the two tech giants said in their release

Apple and Google do not plan to develop the apps themselves, but will instead provide support to public health agencies—though they previously announced plans to eventually bake the features into their respective smartphone platforms. So far, they have been in touch with many U.S. states and over 20 countries interested in the program, they said.

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The companies hope the program will be able to assist in international contract tracing efforts, which will require large numbers of trained health officials and interviewers to test and track down anyone who may have been exposed to the disease. However, the lack of shared location information and other data could reduce its usefulness.

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