Apple and Google team up for contact tracking technology


Tech giants Apple and Google have teamed up on Contact Tracing, technology that can help people figure out if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, via apps and Bluetooth technology.

According to Google, Contact Tracing “makes it possible to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus by alerting participants of possible exposure to someone who they have recently been in contact with, and who has subsequently been positively diagnosed as having the virus.”

The app lets you know if the other person you were in contact with has been diagnosed with COVID, and recommends self-quarantine in response. At the same time, in a joint news release, the companies says “user privacy and security” are central to the design and that they will launch software tools and operating system technology to assist researchers.

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In May, both Apple and Google will release what are called APIs, software tools that allow developers to create within the operating systems, that will be interoperable between the Apple iOS and Google Android mobile platforms. In turn, the companies expect contact tracing apps to be available for download at the Apple iOS and Google Play app stores.

In the “coming months,” Apple and Google look to also enable a Bluetooth-based solution as part of the iOS and Android platforms.

The companies say this would allow more people to participate “as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.”

On Twitter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said their contact tracing would have “strong controls and protections for user privacy.” In his tweet, Apple CEO Tim Cook said contact tracing could be done “without compromising user privacy.” 

In March, President Donald Trump caught Google by surprise by announcing that the company was working with the government on a national website to help people pre-screen for COVID-19. 

Google later said it was actually a sister unit within parent company Alphabet, called Verily, which said it would begin a pilot test in the San Francisco Bay area. It has since expanded to Stockton, in the central California valley, Sacramento, the state capitol and Riverside, south of Los Angeles. 

Users are pre-screened on the web, and if they meet predetermined criteria, they advance to a drive-up testing facility. 

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced on Twitter that the company had sourced over 20 million protective masks. “Our design, engineering, operations and packaging teams are also working with suppliers to design, produce and ship face shields for medical workers.” 

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter

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