The coronavirus pandemic has inspired a rare collaboration between Apple and Google to add technology to their smartphones that will alert users if they have been in contact with an infected person.
The two tech giants said they will initially release application programming interfaces (APIs) in May that will enable users of iOS and Android devices to exchange information through apps run by public health authorities.
If a person tests positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and chooses to add that information to their public health app, smartphone users with whom they came into close proximity over the previous several days will be notified of the contact.
Apple and Google will also work in the coming months to incorporate Bluetooth-based contact-tracing functionality directly into their operating systems.
“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” the companies said in a news release, adding that they hoped to “harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.” .
As the Los Angeles Times reports, “Such a close partnership between these longtime rivals is extremely rare. The technology giants have competed in smartphone operating systems, app stores, media services and voice-recognition technology for years — while trading barbs over the privacy of each other’s platforms.”
“However, both companies have been under pressure to use their prodigious resources to help fight the pandemic,” the Times said.
Apple and Google said including contract-tracing in their operating systems 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.”
The technology will not track the location or identity of users, but instead will only capture data about when users’ phones have been near each other. “Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort,” the companies said.
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