On April 10, Apple and Google announced their cooperation to develop the contact tracking platform for Covid-19 pandemic control. This is an unprecedented move of the two companies, which have been fiercely competing with each other ever.
Technology is considered an important factor to help monitor and control viruses become easier. The project is the latest effort by Apple and Google to stop the outbreak of the pandemic.
How does exposure tracking work?
Called Contact Tracing, Apple and Google platforms are built to identify who has been exposed to Covid-19 by an app approved by health organizations.
Accordingly, the platform uses short-range Bluetooth connectivity to set up a network to track smartphone devices close to each other, the data will integrate into applications approved by health organizations. When infected with Covid-19, users can report to the application to alert others if ever in close contact with the infected object.
By mid-May, Apple and Google will release an API to help health agencies deploy applications that integrate the new platform. In the beginning, people needed to download the app, but later, Apple and Google would expand the platform, integrating tracking to iOS and Android to help users easily access.
There have been several similar projects developed by research agencies, but with building on the operating system level, Apple and Google tracking platforms will work more efficiently, saving more battery. Most importantly, iOS and Android devices can interact with each other, something that rarely appears.
Concerned about privacy, information security
However, the platform also raises concerns about privacy and efficiency. Some experts worry that it may be used as a monitoring tool after the epidemic ends. According to CNN, US President Donald Trump also hinted at privacy when asked about the platform.
“It is very new, very interesting but many people worry about privacy. We have to consider this technology,” Mr. Trump said.
Apple and Google say user privacy comes first. The information collected will be publicly disclosed, and users can choose to opt-in or out.
Next, the platform uses Bluetooth, so it doesn’t collect the user’s geographical location like GPS. Basically, it only receives signals from nearby devices for 5 minutes and then stores the information into the database.
If a person has a positive test, they will report in the application. People who have been in contact with an infected person will receive a warning to contact medical facilities promptly.
Subsequently, the user identity will not be revealed. When sending data by Bluetooth, the application will issue an anonymous ID that changes every 15 minutes. Even if a user is infected with a virus, the application will only share the identification ID during the time they interact with others.
Next, a specific list of devices that have been in close contact will always be in the device. The database only contains the ID information, not the interaction between the IDs.
Some countries, such as Israel and Hong Kong, have implemented contact tracking systems to control the spread of the virus, thereby providing timely interventions. Facebook also said it would apply location tracking to build a map of the corona virus’s spread.
Apple and Google are committed to secure identity and user location with the new contact tracking platform.
Of course, a new system always has weaknesses. In crowded areas, the application can alert everyone whether they are sitting in different rooms, creating unnecessary confusion.
Next, it is impossible to know how long a person has been infected with the virus and those who do not have a smartphone can not access this application.
Currently, Apple and Google are still working with health organizations to improve the platform before being put into use. Of course, there is still a need to combine traditional methods such as getting information from infected people to isolate and find contacts to achieve the highest efficiency.