#apple, #covid, #google, #tool
27 May 2020
Julianna Sykutera

What is Apple and Google collaboration against Covid-19?

In times of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments and health institutions combine forces to protect society and the economy from collapsing. The need for joint actions made Apple and Google work together on the solution that will reduce the spread of the virus. The Apple and Google collaboration against Covid-19 plans to combat the pandemic with the use of technology and it appears that the two tech giants already have the battle strategy. 

The Covid-19 tracing tool 

The two companies have come up with an idea to develop a tracing tool that enables quick detection of people carrying the virus. Apple and Google provided draft documentation for their software project that has been already implemented in iOS 13.5. The aim is to help individuals determine whether they have been exposed to someone with the infection so they can immediately respond to the potential risk. Since the virus can be transmitted through close interaction with infected people, the contact tracing software may help control the spread of it.

How does it work?

The tracing tool uses Bluetooth technology inside smartphones to alert people when they come in contact with the infected person. It serves as an indicator of whether two persons have been physically near each other that could result in getting the virus. When two persons are close to each other their phones exchange beacon keys. Beacons are small hardware devices made to transmit certain information (for example distance between two beacons) via Bluetooth. To ensure anonymity beacon keys are shared with random Bluetooth identifiers that change every 15 minutes.

But how will the device know the person walking by is in fact, a Covid-19 carrier?

Now, this is where things get more complicated. 

Health Verification App

First, you have to download a special app made by the government health authorities who will be responsible for verifying people’s health status. The health institutions will use a unique diagnostic template built-in in every device to state a person’s condition. People will also have the option to report that they have been tested positive for Covid-19 (that would be, of course, verified) to facilitate the tracking process and data collection. 

The Apple and Google contact tracing software will be incorporated with every health verification app. Having access to people’s records and the tracing tool inside the app, health institutions will send out warning notifications by monitoring the Bluetooth activity inside the users’ devices. People will also receive instructions on what to do next after being exposed to Covid-19 carrier.

apple and google covid-19 collaboration

2-phase tool implementation 

Apple and Google collaboration plan to implement the software in 2 stages. 

The first stage that already happened, was to give public health institutions access to APIs that they can integrate into health verification apps and experiment with the Bluetooth detection. The APIs allow for asking users to opt-in to contact tracing system. 

The second stage is to increase the adoption of the tool, taking it to operating system level available across iOS and Android devices. This way there will be no need to download a health verification app. Users will just have to agree on the tracing mechanism on their devices. The second stage will ensure the efficiency of the tool but also take care of the security matters. 

Concerns surrounding Apple and Google collaboration 

One of the concerns around the Covid-19 tracing tool is the danger of relying too much on Bluetooth. The technology can detect signals from far away that can result in too many false warnings about possible Covid-19 exposure. Another thing is the limited scale of testing. Some people claim the diagnostic procedure conducted via the health verification platform is not necessarily an efficient solution. There will be still many unreported cases that can disrupt previously taken actions. However, the main question is…

What’s with user privacy? 

There is a large group of people rejecting the idea of the tracing software because of the possible violation of their privacy. Apple and Google state that the tool won’t provide users with real-time alerts, nor it won’t collect any data connected to the location of people. The two companies also assure that people have to first give consent to share information about their Covid-19 status. No one can force them to use the technology. 

Somewhere else at the same time 

Researchers use other technological solutions to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. One of them is called HealthMap. The solution is based on AI and data visualization to help people predict where the next outbreak of the virus will take place. The technology scrapes information about new cases from online news reports and the web, in general, to produce an extensive map of the outbreak. The system updates the map in real-time and provides people with the true scale of the Covid-19 spread. HealthMap was actually very effective in visualizing other diseases such as swine flu and ebola. 

A real impact on society 

What we care about is any real sign that we soon return to our daily life. Implementing smart technology seems to be the ultimate way to achieve it. Having this set of tools puts us in the winning position. However, let’s not forget we use the technology to beat the virus, not mess around with people’s private data. We all expect our privacy remains safe just as it was before the pandemic.

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