Apple and Google today announced a system to track the spread of COVID-19, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved applications from healthcare organizations.
The new system, which was introduced in a series of documents and technical documents, uses short-range Bluetooth communications to establish a voluntary contact tracking network, keeping data on equipment that was close to each other.
Official applications from public health authorities will have access to this data, and users who downloaded them will be able to report whether they have been diagnosed with COVID-19. If the case of infection is real, all contacts of this person with others who have the application installed, will be recorded.
Apple and Google are now working on a pair of APIs that can be installed in conjunction with healthcare organizations' applications, so that everything works as desired. According to the companies, these APIs will be ready in mid-May, in order to help the various entities to reduce the spread of the virus.
The contact screening aims to understand which contacts an infected person has been in, in order to try to avoid the infection of other people. So far this idea seems to be promising to prevent the spread of the virus, but there are several concerns regarding the privacy of users, where it will have to be limited enough so that there are no problems related to this issue.
To help public health officials slow the spread of # COVID19, Google & @Apple are working on a contact tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for user privacy. @tim_cook and I are committed to working together on these efforts.https://t.co/T0j88YBcFu
– Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 10, 2020
In this case, unlike other methods, the systems will not use GPS data, and Bluetooth is unable to understand people's physical location. What this system will do is to capture signals from nearby equipment at 5 minute intervals, storing them in a database. If one of the contacts had a positive result of COVID-19, the entities could have access to the contacts that the patient had had with other people.
The method is interesting, but there are still weaknesses, for example, in very crowded areas, the system can signal people in other rooms who have not had contact with the patient, thus increasing the number of possible infections unnecessarily.
Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with @sundarpichai & @Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent. https://t.co/94XlbmaGZV
– Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 10, 2020
For now, Apple and Google are still working on this project together with health officials and other stakeholders on the topic. In the future, this system may replace several methods known as interviews with infected people, in order to understand with whom other people have had contact or close to them.