Apple and Google announced on Wednesday the release of their jointly developed contact tracing platform. The tech has been offered worldwide to assist public health authorities in their contact tracing efforts.
The #COVID19 Exposure Notification technology we built jointly with @Apple is now available to public health agencies in support of their contact tracing efforts. Our goal is to empower them with another tool to help combat the virus while protecting user privacy.
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) May 20, 2020
As the world continues its struggle against the pandemic, nations are looking to gradually ease month-long lockdown restrictions. To facilitate this, authorities are looking for ways to quickly identify individuals who have been exposed to the virus, in an effort to slow the spread.
Technology can help health officials rapidly tell someone they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Today the Exposure Notification API we created with @Google is available to help public health agencies make their COVID-19 apps effective while protecting user privacy.
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) May 20, 2020
Apple and Google have stated that 22 countries as well as several US states have expressed interest in the joint offering. Among these, Alabama, South Carolina and North Dakota have become the first states to publicly commit to the technology.
While contact tracing has developed as a powerful tool to identify individuals at risk, it poses the constant threat of being an instrument through which sensitive and private information can be obtained. Counties including South Korea, China and Israel, have adopted contact tracing platforms which enable access to information such as phone numbers, CCTV footage, and credit-card transactions. While certain authorities argue that such information could exponentially enhance the effectiveness of contact tracing platforms, Apple and Google have placed strict restrictions on the public implementation of their offering.
These restrictions state that only one app per country will adopt the platform in order to discourage competition. Moreover, the user will not be allowed to collect GPS data, phone numbers or other personal information. Apple and Google also require that app be taken down as and when the virus is brought under control.
The United Kingdom, among other countries, is one opting to develop their own technology. However, concerns have been raised regarding the NHS contact tracing app, mainly those involving privacy-protection. Apple and Google on the other hand have stated that their platform relies on Bluetooth connections between devices to log users who are in physical proximity for at least five minutes.
— Ramkumar (@CA_Ramkumar) May 20, 2020
He said whilst simultaneously tracking everyone with a gmail account.
— Toonaami (@Toonaami) May 20, 2020
The tech giants have made very clear their intention to put privacy and security at the forefront of their endeavor. This has largely led to a positive response from the public, though some still remain weary of the adverse possibilities of the technology.