Google and Apple join forces. They will develop technology to monitor contacts with infected virus

At the time of writing, the world does not yet have a fully effective method of tracking the spread of COVID-19. Soon, however, this may change, because two giants threw their troops into this fight: Apple and Google.

Two market antagonists have just announced an alliance in the fight against a common enemy. Google and Apple will jointly develop a solution that will effectively track the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus using devices that each of us has with us: phones.

Google and Apple will provide appropriate APIs and tools at the operating system level to enable accurate tracking of contact with the infected. As the need is urgent and this type of technology also requires adequate security of user privacy, its implementation will take place in two stages.

In May, both companies will provide their APIs, operating on both iOS and Android, to the developers of applications managed by health authorities around the world. Official health organizations' applications will be available for download from the Play Store and Apple App Store.

In the coming months, Apple and Google will develop a secure platform based on Bluetooth connectivity that will allow monitoring the route of infection to more applications and users, if of course they agree.

As potential technology abuse is at stake to interfere with our privacy, both companies want to publicly disclose progress information so that independent experts can analyze it.

Google and Apple are creating technology that is already in use today. Only on a too limited scale.

A similar solution, also based on Bluetooth technology, has been in use since March 20 in Singapore. The application is called TraceTogether and is currently available for free to developers from around the world.

How it's working? When the phones with the application installed are nearby, they connect to each other via Bluetooth. The recording history of these connections is stored on devices for 21 days. If any of the users is positively diagnosed on COVID-19, the data from the application will allow tracking the history of contacts with other users and testing them, if any.

Work on such an application has also started in Poland. It is called ProteGO and - like the Singapore TraceTogether - is intended to establish infectious contacts. The application is currently being tested, and everyone can view its code on GitHub . When Google and Apple release their API, it's likely ProteGO will be using it.

Of course, this solution raises several problems. The first is the fact that the application must be installed voluntarily, so not everyone will have one on your phone. And this means that the operation of the application is limited by the number of active users.

The second problem is obviously the fear of abuse and privacy of users. App developers say that the application does not store personal data or location history, only contact history and the data is encrypted. Nevertheless, the data can be decoded at any time by representatives of the Singapore Ministry of Health.

In Poland, we also already had fittings to use technology to surveillance citizens: the Anti-Crisis Shield 2.0 project in the initial phase included provisions about the possibility of tracking uninfected people and acquiring their non-anonymous data. Fortunately, the rulers went to their heads and quickly withdrew from this idea.

The technology from Apple and Google is to solve both problems.

The implementation of this type of technology at the system level, even if initially would also take place only through the dedicated applications of health ministries around the world, will automatically expand the range of usability of the solution.

Apple and Google jointly control almost the entire smartphone market. Assuming that Bluetooth tracking technology will be installed on every phone, it will be possible to accurately trace the contact history of each infected user.

Of course, the issue of privacy still remains, and - compared to Singapore - we are dealing here with a typical choice of the "lesser evil": will we allow potential startups to track our movements to small startups who can make data available to the government at any time, or let us track our movements large corporations that will probably not share this data with the government, but no one will guarantee us that in the long run they will not start using this technology for their own purposes.

This dilemma will probably stay with us long after the pandemic is over.

Despite the fact that tracking the history of infections via Bluetooth connectivity raises many questions, it allows you to get instant answers to questions that we must answer immediately.

Monitoring the history of contacts of infected users may in the long run prove to be the most effective tool to keep the SARS-CoV2 epidemic in check, while returning to (as) normal life.

Google and Apple join forces. They will develop technology to monitor contacts with infected virus


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