Apple, Google team up to track coronavirus spread using iPhone, Android

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Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, at the 2019 DreamForce conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Nov. 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple and Google announced a partnership on Friday in which the two companies will work together to provide tools that will help track the spread of coronavirus.

Apple said both companies will launch developer tools (called APIs) in May that will “enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities.” The apps will launch on the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store.

“Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design,” a press release announcing the partnership said.

Bluetooth can be used to track the location of a phone, often with smaller Bluetooth beacons that are able to provide a more accurate position than a cellular signal or GPS. The tools from Apple and Google will enable app makers to use Bluetooth to let people know when they’ve come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus, a process called contact tracing.

Both Android and iOS allow you to monitor which apps have access to your location using Bluetooth and let you turn off tracking. It’s unclear right now if the apps will trace locations or instead simply trace if one person infected with coronavirus comes in contact with another person.

“Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms,” Apple said in a press release.

Importantly, this is opt-in contract tracing, which means users will need to agree to be tracked if they want to participate. Contact tracing can allow health officials to monitor the spread of coronavirus by seeing who has been in close contact with infected people.

Apps have been used in other countries, like Singapore, where phones with contact tracing apps record encounters between people and store data in phones for 21 days. In Singapore, Bluetooth signals record when people are near one another but the locations of folks using the app is not collected.

“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze,” the companies said.

This news is developing. Please check back for updates.

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