Google and Apple partner on COVID-19 contact tracing technology

Google and Apple partner on COVID-19 contact tracing technology

Google and Apple announced last weekend an agreement to develop a solution with which to detect contact with nearby coronavirus cases via mobile. It would be a new technology based on the Bluetooth of the users’ mobiles and on which both companies maintain that it will be a project that protects the privacy and security of the users.

In a joint statement, the two US companies assured that their software developers would work on this technology, with the aim of helping governments, health institutions, and NGOs that combat the pandemic.

Almost all current electronic devices, including smart mobile phones, have a Bluetooth chip, a physical element that allows them to connect wirelessly with other nearby devices.

The technology of Google and Apple is based precisely on the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol, created in 2006 and which differs from the original version in that it reduces the necessary energy consumption.

USING BLUETOOTH

Through Bluetooth Low Energy, when two users who carry their ‘smartphones’ are close for a time, their devices exchange information known as beacons.

These beacons, which change every 15 minutes, as explained by Apple, are stored in a history that collects the people with whom a user has been in contact. Likewise, a key generated once per device is also generated every 24 hours.

In this way, when a person tests positive, they will be able to enter this information into an app of the health institutions of their country or region.

At this time, beacons and keys are combined, and people with whom the infected has been in contact receive a warning notification, in which the health institutions of their country tell them what to do next.

PRIVACY OF THE DATA

One of the aspects that Google and Apple have placed the most emphasis on is that “user privacy and security will be central to the design” of this new solution against coronavirus.

As Google explains in a technical document, this tool needs the explicit consent of users and does not collect information that can identify a person or location data.

To preserve security, the data collected does not leave the device and the people who test positive for COVID-19 are not identified to other users, nor to Google and Apple.

The data collected by this solution will be used only so that the health authorities fighting COVID-19 can inform users that they have been in contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus.

FOR IPHONE AND APPLE

The Google and Apple tool is not an application in itself, but a set of application programming interfaces (APIs), that is, the tools used to develop ‘software’ compatible with a certain system.

Generally, Google and Apple devices use different APIs, but in this case, the infected tracking solutions, which according to the statement will be available in May, will be compatible with the mobile operating systems of both companies: iOS Apple and Google Android.

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