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6 make-or-break questions about Google and Apple's COVID-tracking tech

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but hell hath officially frozen over. And you know I have to be serious, because I used the word “hath.”

Yes, indeedly: Google and Apple, better known as Valjean and Javert (or maybe vice-versa, depending on your perspective), have set aside their differences and set out to work together — on a contact-tracing system for this current COVID crisis of ours.

The effort will introduce a standard programming interface to both Android and iOS that’ll be capable of tracking what devices you come in contact with during the day (and/or night, if you’re still being wild). Then, if someone you’ve been near identifies themselves as being sick with COVID-19, the system will alert you that you may’ve been exposed.

The cross-platform concept was revealed last Friday, and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it ever since. It’s surprisingly complicated and multifaceted — and now, nearly a week after its announcement, I’m finding myself facing more questions than answers about how it’ll work in the real world and what we should make of it.

I often find that thinking through such questions — even those that don’t yet have entirely clear answers — is an effective way to process something and gain a deeper understanding of what we need to watch as it progresses. So fasten on the nearest pondering cap (after thoroughly sanitizing it, of course), and join me for a friendly mull.

1. How many people will opt in to the contact-tracing process?

One core component of the Google-Apple contact-tracing system is the fact that it’s fully optional — and that your phone will be involved only if you explicitly decide to opt yourself into the process. For the foreseeable future, that’ll mean both enabling the system itself and then downloading a third-party app from a public health agency to control it.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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