With the COVID-19 pandemic relentlessly emerging, companies and governments around the world are trying their absolute best to contain the virus by any means necessary. Although this may not be the first pandemic the world has ever faced, it is one of the few that has appeared during an advanced, digital age. This has prompted many of the responses taken to tackle it, to rely heavily on technological advancements such as building 3D masks and a new way to track coronavirus cases, contact tracing.
Google and Apple have both taken it upon themselves to work collaboratively to launch a system through which users can track whether or not they have been in close contact with someone who has contracted the virus. The mechanism is quite simple. With short range Bluetooth signals, the system will keep a tab on users who have come in close contact with one another, and exchange an anonymous identifier key within their devices. If any one of the users contracts the virus, they can log in that detail into the application, and with their consent, health officials will be given data on all the devices and people they have been in close contact with, and promptly alert them. This could work quite effectively to help users to stop going out and spreading the virus and practice self-quarantine.
With the suggestion of contact tracing comes the growing concern about breach of privacy by taking personal data. However, that seems to be a common misconception. Contact tracing is done entirely anonymously and does not double as a location tracking device. The Bluetooth signals simply track the devices the user has been in close contact with, rather than tracking their whereabouts. Even when a user gives their consent for their data to be given to health officials, it is done so keeping their personal details away from any kind of personal use.
Another concern is the inevitable disadvantages that may come with technology. Growing concerns about the logistics of the app are constantly being tackled. For instance, application may not factor in how long someone may have been exposed to the infected person, which greatly contributes to the likeliness of them being affected. A user is most likely to contract the virus if they have a conversation with someone than simply by passing by each other, a factor that the software would not be able to differentiate. However, it is a very promising start which could at the very least, lead to prevention, which would be more effective than simply being left in the dark.
Google And Apple aim to use their partnership to overcome these issues. Both companies will release APIs in May 2020 that will enable interoperability between iOS and Android devices, using apps from public health authorities. The apps will be available for users to download via app stores. Subsequently, Apple and Google intend to work together to develop a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform. This will be an even more robust solution than an API. For now, we can only hope that good things come out of this historic partnership!