On their blog, and then in tweets, Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook, the CEOs of Google and Apple, shared an identical statement about their joint effort. Their work will be based on Bluetooth technology, not GPS data. Eventually, a pair of APIs will be offered on Android and iOS smartphones and should support applications developed by governments. The choice of Bluetooth was determined for its advantages in terms of “user privacy and security.”
Communications will be short ranges between devices. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they will be able to notify this on their smartphone, and all devices that have registered the encrypted key on the patient’s smartphone as being nearby will issue an alert to inform people. On the authorities’ side, this exchange of information will allow the monitoring of the virus and infected people, which could make it possible to see areas where the virus is growing more quickly. Contact tracing”, as it is often called, will also be useful to carry out more localized screening tests and thus provide more effective prevention.
In the current context, where the number of cases is colossal, and health measures have introduced mandatory containment, it is difficult to see how such tools could be useful. They will be most useful after this first wave when the restrictions are gradually lifted. There will be fewer cases and more movement of people. Applications by public authorities will help more traditional efforts.
Bluetooth preferred over GPS data
On 1 April, a pan-European project involving more than 130 IT experts steered the European Union States towards the development of “contact tracing” applications that also work with Bluetooth data. With the help of Google and Apple, the implementation of adequate applications to track people infected with coronavirus will be more straightforward, especially since Apple does not usually open its ecosystem.
With this sharing of information between Android and iOS devices, The Verge explains that individual data – in addition to being encrypted and anonymous – may not be centralized. Devices will communicate directly with each other without going through a request to an intermediate server. Likewise, their technology will be able to let our Bluetooth system change the ephemeral code every 15 minutes. It will further ensure the safety of people while continuing to allow smartphones to remember which devices they were near if an alert of an infected person is given.
Apple and Google want to emphasize the nature of their work: under no circumstances would they create an application in the place of public authorities. But although they are only a brick in this technology, they will, therefore, be in the best position to deal with the data of the virus, whose access codes they will share with state applications. Their APIs will be available in May, and deeper integration will be available on Android and iOS this summer. Google and Apple say they will remove the system at the end of the outbreak.