Google, Apple Announce Collaboration on COVID-19 Tracing

Apple and Google announced a partnership to develop applications to aid in the fight against COVID-19 in a blog post on Friday. The two companies, whose smartphone operating systems account for the vast majority of the market, will work together to ensure interoperability between the two platforms for apps published by public health authorities. They will also use Bluetooth technology to facilitate contract tracing, a key technique in the fight against COVID-19 and other pandemics.

The two-pronged approach is being carried out while “maintaining strong protections around user privacy.” Privacy concerns were immediately raised as telecom providers worldwide considered using location data to track the effectiveness of social distancing guidelines implemented to slow the spread of the virus.

“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,” Google continued.

The companies plan to release application programming interfacing (APIs) in May to allow public health officials to ensure that the apps they develop can be used by both Android and iOS users. The companies will then work to “enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.”

According to documents attached to the post, the Bluetooth program would be strictly opt-in only and maintain a private list of individuals that a user has been in close contact with. The system would log individuals that a given user has been in close enough contact with over the last 2 weeks. If someone who a user has been in contact with enters a positive COVID-19 test result in an app created by a public health authority, they will receive a notification.

The rare collaboration between two marketplace giants may have been facilitated by recent guidance provided by American antitrust authorities, encouraging collaboration to fight the spread of the deadly virus.