Apple and Google to release tracing app for coronavirus

Apple and Google just announced a temporary (and rare) partnership to help combat the spread of coronavirus.

The two tech giants are working together to launch an app that will help notify users if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Here’s how the app will work (I think).

Let’s say you were at a café chatting it up with somebody.

While chatting it up, your mobile device and their mobile device would be talking to each other via BlueTooth and exchanging anonymous identifiers to register the interaction. (These identifiers will first remain on personal devices in order to preserve privacy.)

Now let’s say that somebody tested positive for coronavirus a few days later.

If that person reported their positive test results to an app, your phone could then pick up on the fact that someone with coronavirus was in close contact with you and you would be alerted that you might need to quarantine or self isolate (or perhaps just get tested).

The idea is to implement a contact tracing system which is absolutely vital for containing the spread of a virus.

Obviously, this will raise huge privacy concerns for a lot of people and I completely understand that. Anytime you’re dealing with private medical data and storing interactions with others, there is always going to be the risk of people accessing your information.

And there’s also the risk of the government overstepping their involvement.

It truly could be slippery slope.

But the tech companies are emphasizing privacy, transparency, and consent.

The app will only be for people who decide to opt in, which will hopefully be a substantial amount of people. Reportedly, this app could monitor about a third of the world’s population.

The app will come out in stages.

First, next month they will create the ability for iPhones and Android phones to exchange information via apps run by public health authorities.

In the second phase, they will add the tech into their operating systems so it works without having to download an app, allowing many more people to use it.

This is the type of thing that was and is still being implemented in China although China has done things much differently.

In China, citizens are issued a color such as green, yellow, or red based on the likelihood that they are carrying the coronavirus or have been exposed. This Chinese system is tied much closer to personal data and it can prevent you from being able to participate in society if your color is not acceptable (i.e., green).

What we would be doing in the US is more of an anonymous, self-opt in tracing system that is optional and would not have official consequences for your ability to get out into society. The app won’t tell you who you came into contact with or even where it happened.

It will just let you know that there was a potential contact with someone who had coronavirus recently.

It’s a very different type of thing from China but it could serve a very similar purpose in helping potentially infected people to stay out of society for a little while or at least get tested.

I think widespread use of this app combined with easily accessible (possibly at home tests) could make a huge difference and allow us to keep transmission rates way down while society opens up in a major way.

Personally, I am excited to see how this app is developed over the next month and I think this could be a great thing when it comes to opening society back up, especially within organizations where the opt-in rate could be 100% or near that.