Apple and Google have started a big effort to help people know if they are connected to the Corona
Updated: May 27, 2020
Apple and Google have unveiled an ambitious effort to help fight the new coronavirus, introducing new tools that may soon let smartphone owners know if they've encountered someone with the disease.
Changes announced by companies targeting iPhones and Android devices can inject valuable new technology into communications tracking, a strategy public health officials believe is necessary to get people back to work and back to normal while controlling the spread of the epidemic.
Apple and Google are hoping to use Bluetooth, a technology commonly used to connect wireless speakers and keyboards to device owners. With the help of technology, public health officials will soon be able to publish apps with the ability to detect other smartphones nearby. If someone knows they have a coronavirus, they can indicate on thir application that they have been infected - people who have their smartphone nearby will be notified, whether their device is running on Apple or on Google software.
Apple and Google said they expect tools will be available for developers to compile these contact tracking apps in mid-May, with more operating system improvements and system expansion, to continue .
The companies said the technology would not track the exact location of the user and would not reveal the identity of the injured person to tech giants or governments around the world.
This announcement represents an unprecedented collaboration between technological competitors, among the largest companies in the country. But the success of their efforts will depend on the ability of public health officials to build apps fairly quickly and on the fact that users constantly download and use them. Above all, it relies on the wide availability of tests, which is a long-term challenge in the United States, where many Americans still cannot say if they have been infected with a coronavirus despite recent allegations by President Trump.
"We all believe that at Apple and Google, there has never been a more important time to work together to solve one of the most urgent problems in the world," the companies said in a joint statement. "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." everyday."
The new partnership reflects a growing awareness in Silicon Valley that popular technology devices - and the ranges of data they produce - can be used to track the epidemic.
In recent weeks, Facebook has sought to leverage social data on the location of its users to help track the possible spread of the coronavirus. Apple and other companies have launched special symptom checkers to help people determine if they need care. Google has released detailed data on the travel habits of smartphone users in 131 countries. Some traders, previously unknown to most Americans, have claimed to help public health officials track the effectiveness of social spacing around the world.
But some of these sites and services have raised uncomfortable questions about the balance between public health and privacy - and how to protect people's personal information, even in the face of the urgent need to save lives from infection. deadly.
When White House officials began last month engaging the tech industry on how to exploit location information - discussions the Washington Post first published - privacy hawks and some lawmakers refused. Many feared that the government might intrude on the privacy of Americans.
Apple and Google said that they will not collect the exact contact details of anyone to fight the coronavirus. Instead, a device with a contact tracking app broadcasts a single signal every few minutes to other nearby devices, including those within six feet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a minimum of six feet for social distance.
Currently, users will have to choose to install these contact tracking applications, which are still being developed by organizations like MIT. It would be entirely up to the individual to determine whether he was infected with the virus, which led to anonymous alerts being sent to his relatives.
Epidemiologists and public health officials have recently focused on Bluetooth as a vital tool for human teams seeking to track and stop epidemic growth. The developers said it will continue its efforts to track human contact, while public health officials are interviewing people to find out who contacted them at the time of the injury.
At the end of March, a research team from the University of Oxford, writing in the scientific journal Science, said that the spread of a coronavirus was "too fast to be contained by manual monitoring of connections", and that Bluetooth technology would be required to complete this. They wrote that such an application could "replace the work of a week of manual call tracking with instant signals sent to and from a central server".
"The intention is not to impose technology as a lasting change for society, but we believe that under these epidemiological conditions [which] are necessary and justified to protect public health," said the researchers.
Some experts still mention technological challenges, including the fact that devices can connect walls, car doors or different floors of the same building even when people are not in close contact. They say that human investigators using low-tech interview techniques will be important in identifying the real risks.
"Bluetooth technology is promising, but it is very experimental and has problems," said John Scott Rilton, senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk College of Global Affairs and Public Policy. "We all discovered our neighbors' bluetooth headsets through a wall or floor. Or I saw someone's ears in a traffic jam. That doesn't mean we will reach a diagonal distance from them. that engineers reliably discover how to map bluetooth away from droplets, the approach should lead to a lot of false positives. "
With Apple and Google, an additional challenge is that it is entirely in the hands of users: the system is voluntary, it depends on the people who download the application and use it correctly. To address concerns about potential misuse, users will need to obtain a confirmed diagnosis from the Public Health Agency indicating that they have a coronavirus - as well as a special code, for example - triggering the signal to others devices, according to Apple.
Privacy advocates see the use of Bluetooth technology in this way as more useful and less intrusive than other experiences using mobile site data that have surfaced in recent weeks as the epidemic worsens . Although smartphone users have little or no ability to control the data collected by phone companies and application manufacturers on their movements, they can deactivate Bluetooth or refuse to download the proposed coronavirus tracking applications.
"For their good, Apple and Google have announced an approach that appears to mitigate the worst risks of privacy and centralization, but there is still room for improvement," said Jennifer Granic, consultant for Civic Liberties and Electronic Freedom for the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement released Friday. "We will continue to be vigilant to move forward to ensure that any [contact] monitoring application remains voluntary and decentralized, and is used only for public health purposes and only during the epidemic period."
Singapore had some success at first with the TraceTogether Bluetooth tracking app that connects people to their phone number. Officials in Germany, France, and across Europe have discussed a similar Bluetooth system that could track epidemics while preserving user privacy.
But getting limited impact can be a challenge. The Singapore app, launched last month, uses Bluetooth to determine when people are six feet apart for at least 30 minutes. If the infection is confirmed, officials from the government's health ministry contact the person to follow aggressive quarantine procedures.
A senior Singapore official said earlier this month that three-quarters of the country's population would need to download a contact tracking app to be effective - but it's only one in six, or nearly of a million Singaporeans, installed the application for this very far. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a national speech last week that efforts had been completely unsuccessful in the epidemic: "Although traces of good contacts have been found, almost half of these cases, we do not do not know where or from whom the virus was infected. "
The efforts of Apple and Google can help unify the efforts of a growing team of researchers who see low-power Bluetooth Low Energy technology as a way to track social outreach. The contributions of tech giants can also help teams overcome some of the technical hurdles that kept systems from working reliably in recent tests.
Reis Fenwick, communications manager for one of the groups, Covid-Watch, working on the technology, said that Bluetooth-based systems would not be a "quick fix" to track infection and would only complement other efforts. Compare the idea with wearing masks: although many people still don't use them or use them properly, encouraging their use can help get rid of the huge risks to global health.
"It should not be an ideal system," he said. "It must be better than the status quo."