Most of the world is on lockdown right now as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, but that won’t be the case forever. After we’re all allowed to go outside again, it will be up to public health experts to contain COVID-19, and two technology megacorporations have forged a partnership to help them do it. Google and Apple have announced a new Bluetooth-based platform to help track the spread of coronavirus.
Many regions are under stay at home orders because the spread of COVID-19 is too extensive to control. However, epidemiologists say it will take aggressive “contact tracing” to keep things under control once we pass the peak of infections. Contact tracing is simply the process of reconstructing the movements of someone diagnosed with an infectious disease. By knowing where they were when they were contagious, public health officials can identify other individuals who need to be tested. This technique has been instrumental in fighting HIV, tuberculosis, measles, and many other diseases.
Often, the limiting factor of contact tracing’s efficacy is the patient’s own memory. If someone were to ask you to list every place you went over a two or three day period two weeks ago, you’d probably get a lot wrong. Your phone, however, would have a perfect memory. Apple and Google have devised a system that allows Android and iOS devices to talk to each other over Bluetooth. If someone is using this system and becomes infected, officials could find out who else might be at risk based on the Bluetooth records.
This technology will be entirely opt-in and won’t use any of your GPS data — since coronavirus spreads best within a few feet, short-range Bluetooth technology is a great way to model contact tracing. The phones don’t even have to negotiate a connection because Bluetooth can passively record device IDs as you walk past. It’s probably similar to the way products like Tile use Bluetooth to find lost items, but the “lost items” are people you might have infected with coronavirus. Starting in May, Apple and Google will release apps for their respective mobile platforms in cooperation with public health authorities. After installing, the app can record contacts with other devices running the software.
Later, Google and Apple hope to integrate these contact tracing APIs into their mobile operating systems. That would eliminate the need for an app installation. This would allow more people to participate, and a phone could ask you to opt-in immediately during setup. Apple and Google both promise privacy and consent are top-of-mind as they design this system.
- After Bending the Curve: Unwinding the Great Lockdown
- Nvidia Joins War Against COVID-19 With AI, GPU Supercomputing
- YouTube Says It Will Remove 5G Misinformation After People Burn Cell Towers