In an effort to help contain the coronavirus pandemic, Tech goliaths Apple and Google have joined together to create software that would assist in contact tracing in order to alert people who have come in contact with people who have contracted COVID-19.
Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology. To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.
First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.
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. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities. 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.
Hot Air’s Allahpundit, however, is skeptical about the ability for people to truly “opt out” of this data mining.
“If I understand that correctly, they’re going to roll this out quickly by first providing it as an app available for download — called Contact Tracing, neatly enough. Then, in stage two, they’re going to build it right into the iOS and Android operating systems while providing some sort of option to opt out. That’ll deliver the software to three billion people or so,” Allahpundit wrote. “An obvious early question: How thorough will the “opt out” be, exactly? Given how much personal information is collected surreptitiously by tech companies already, it’s impossible to believe that the movements of opt-outs won’t be quietly tracked too. The “opt out” might prevent you from being alerted if someone you’ve been in contact with is sick, but no one wants to opt out of that part. It’s the movement tracking to which some will object. Is that realistically preventable once it’s built into the OS? Is there any doubt that eventually the default setting on contact tracing will be to turn it on and force users to turn it off?”
Allahpundit noted that Apple and Google’s app looks like it will function at least somewhat like a program that Germany instituted to combat the virus, which broadcasts different IDs every 30 minutes as someone goes about their day. If a person tests positive for coronavirus, then it would trace which IDs came into contact with the temporary IDs of the coronavirus-positive person and send them an alert that they may have interacted with someone who had COVID-19.
Of course, as Allahpundit noted, this requires widespread testing for the virus, something we just don’t have yet.