Apple and Google announced on Friday (10) that they are working together to combat the COVID-19 pandemic with technology. Companies are developing a system that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and collects data for governments and public health agencies with the intention of reducing the spread of the new coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2).
COVID-19 spreads through contact, and instead of using the smartphone’s GPS system to track the location of citizens, both will allow Android and iOS devices to connect via low-energy Bluetooth to exchange information related to positively diagnosed citizens for the disease.
Companies will launch APIs that are part of the two-step solution. The first of these will happen in May, with the launch of APIs that will allow interoperability between the two systems. The two companies will not have access to the data collected and the APIs will be used only by public health authorities.
The second stage, which will take place in the coming months, will enable the contact tracking platform to be enabled, and can then be incorporated into other underlying platforms, the companies say. In other words: more applications and government health authorities will have access to the system.
In this way, contact tracking, which requires user consent, can be used to identify and alert citizens. The system does not collect information that allows users to be identified, nor does it export the data to other tools that are not working on the same cause, for example.
Privacy and security: central elements
For all of this to work, Apple and Google published an illustrated booklet to detail the partnership’s operation. For data to be collected, citizens will need to download an application; this, in this case, will be offered by public health authorities, and not by companies.
According to the companies, the tool was born “with privacy and security of the user as central elements”.
When the tool and applications are made available, the user will need to download it and consent to give his information. In this application, among others, the user will inform if he has been positively diagnosed for COVID-19.
These data are sent periodically every 14 days to the servers of public health entities. Also periodically, they are transmitted to other users, informing or not whether she has already been in contact with someone tested positively and without identifying other people.
Positive tested patients will not be identified or will have data shared with others, nor with any of the companies. Only public health authorities will have access to the use and distribution of the APIs.
“Privacy, transparency and consent are extremely important in this effort, and we hope to build this functionality in constant consultation with society,” say Apple and Google in a statement.
Both are committed to publishing information about the progress of the work “in an open way for others to analyze”.
On Twitter, CEOs Tim Cook, Apple, and Sundar Pichai, Google, reinforced the partnership, support for health authorities, and the position of ensuring user privacy, data security, transparency and consent in the collection of information.