Two of the tech giants that represent over 70% of mobile phones owned in the world have teamed up to fight the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic using tech.
Outlined in white papers published by Apple and Google on Friday, the technology is said to rely on bluetooth radio technology to help phones communicate with each another to warn users about people they have come in contact with and are infected with the coronavirus.
This contact tracing technology is to be rolled out in May to be initially used by public health authorities. In the preceding months, the companies aim at building the technology directly in android and IOS devices to intensify the fight against the virus by allowing more people to utilize the tech.
In a joint statement, the companies stated that through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments, and public health providers, they would harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID‑19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.
In a tweet on April 10, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, stated that the new initiative “respects transparency and consent“.
In a separate tweet, Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO added that the two companies “are committed to working together on these efforts.”
In the coming days, we anticipate that more such companies will engage in the fight against the virus.
This is however not the first time that Alphabet, Google’s parent company is getting involved in the fight against covid-19. One of its subsidiary companies, Verily, has also been working on ways to combat this pandemic in collaboration with the United States government.
The company is set to launch a website that would let people fill out a questionnaire where they could describe symptoms and receive information about drive-through testing and how to get results, Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at the address.
With this new coronavirus tracing technology, the two tech rivals are hoping to help create apps that’ll help us regain a sense of normalcy as we wait for a vaccine or other ways to fight the virus.
How it works
Most governments perform the contact tracing process manually which is prone to some coronavirus cases not being identified. With the automation process on its way, it would be easier for health care workers to comb through a patient’s history to figure out who they were near and may have exposed to infection.
People who’re marked as having coronavirus in the app on their phone could then wirelessly transmit alerts to anyone they come in contact with, potentially leading people to take extra precautions or self-quarantine to slow any further spread.
An almost similar project is the one that is created at MIT with the name Private Automated Contact Tracing, or PACT, which uses a similar approach to the one Apple and Google are using.
With it, infected people with health care approval could upload the digital IDs their phone broadcasts, and others could check that database to see if there’s a match with any of the IDs their phones logged.
Other contact-tracing apps, such as COVID Watch and Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, have also been developed to deal with the pandemic.
No doubt these ideas and initiatives are great and could prove to be very useful in the war against coronavirus. The biggest concerns however are about the privacy and security of the users of these technologies.
The American Civil Liberties Union warned in a report earlier this week that contact tracing apps could lead to increased government surveillance, which creates a form of hesitance for the potential users of these apps in using them.
It was also observed by the organization that GPS and Bluetooth signals can sometimes be inaccurate or untrustworthy, further soiling the idea of usage of these apps.
The MIT team is however aware of some of the challenges, the main one being able to get Android and Apple phones to communicate reliably, pointed Ron Rivest, a PACT leader and cryptography expert famous for helping in the invention of the widely used RSA encryption technology.
It can be hard to measure range with Bluetooth, and results vary depending on the way a phone is oriented, whether it’s held against somebody’s head for a phone call or tucked inside a purse or pocket.
Whether these ideas succeed or not, only time will tell after their implementation.