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Apple and Google join forces to create coronavirus contact tracking technology

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Apple and Google, normally competitors in the smartphone space, have joined forces to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help track and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

By using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and apps from health organisations, a new contact tracking system can be created.

Every time a phone comes within close range of another device for a few seconds, that phone will be stored in a database.

Health authorities will have access to this data, with the approval of users, so if someone in the list tests positive to coronavirus, other people who came within close contact of that person will be notified they may have been exposed to an infected person.

By mid-May, this technology being developed by Apple and Google will be offered as an API for both iOS and Android operating systems which can be included in health apps.

Users will have to download an app and register to participate in contact tracing.

But in the months ahead the feature will become part of the iPhone and Android smartphone’s operating systems so it will available to anyone who owns a smartphone and can be activated within the device settings.

Contact tracing using this technology will allow health authorities to see who is infected and find out immediately who they have been in contact with and also prevent them from infecting other people.

In terms of privacy, contact tracing won’t track your location data through GPS but keep a database of other devices you came into contact with.

Bluetooth used for contact tracing broadcasts an anonymous key which changes every 15 minutes rather than your identity and the database stores the shared keys rather than any type of identifiable data or interaction between devices.

If a person alerts health authorities they have coronavirus, the devices with the same shared key (which means they were in proximity of this person), a notification is then sent to users who opted in to the contact tracing program while still maintaining their privacy and security.

“Privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance in this effort and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,” Apple and Google said in a joint statement.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems. Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.”