Apple and Google team up to create coronavirus-tracking software

Apple and Google are teaming up to build software that can alert users if they come into direct contact with someone who has the coronavirus.

In a rare partnership for the Silicon Valley rivals that’s sure to stir privacy concerns, the companies said in a Friday press release that they will work together on  that will allow iPhones and Android phones alike to exchange information via Bluetooth, alerting users if they have been in close physical proximity with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Under the plan, users’ phones will be added to a catalog of phones that have agreed to have their tracing technology turned on. If a person in the catalog tests positive, a list of encrypted phones that came near that person’s phone will be alerted.

Such phone tracking was used by China, known for questionable surveillance of its citizens, to combat the spread of the virus.

The software — which the companies have stressed will only be employed if users opt-in and agree to be tracked — will begin to be available in May as a downloadable app. The tech giants plan to build the tracking technology directly into their operating systems to streamline the process down the line, they said.

In an effort to reassure users about the potential privacy implications of a mass-tracking system, Apple and Google said that GPS location data will not be used, nor will the technology track the location or identity of users. Instead, they said that the program will only capture data about when users’ phones have been near each other, and will not be decrypted on the companies’ servers.

“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’s statement reads.

Governments worldwide have been scrambling to develop or evaluate software meant to improve the normally labor-intensive process of contact tracing, in which health officials go to recent contacts of an infected person and ask them to self-quarantine or get tested.

Several health technology experts have said the involvement of Apple and Google would be a massive boost to their efforts, as contact tracing apps from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others struggled to make their apps work across competing operating systems.

With Post wires