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Apple, Google Roll Out Beta Versions of Contact-Tracing Tools for App Developers


Early versions of a COVID-19 contact-tracing solution from Apple and Google rolled out to iOS and Android app developers this week, allowing them to test it before a broader consumer launch. 

By working together, the tools allow for easy, Bluetooth-based contact tracing across iOS and Android, which run on the vast majority of devices consumers carry around with them every day. Public health authorities are expected to develop apps for tracking infections while relying on these tools to discover who an infected person came into contact with recently.

As Bloomberg reports, app developers need updated software development kits (SDK) to work with the contact-tracing tools, but support also needs to be rolled out for Android and iOS. With that in mind, Apple has launched a beta version of iOS 13.5 and a new version of Xcode 11.5 for developers. Google is releasing an update to Android via the Play Store and offering an update to its Android Studio and SDK tools for developers. By Friday, developers working on both platforms should also have access to sample code showing them how to use the contact-tracing features effectively.

For now, the contact-tracing technology is limited to developers who need to both build and test their apps. It won’t be until Google and Apple approve the final public health apps that they’ll become available for our smartphones, at which point we’ll get to see if contact tracing actually works.

When it does roll out, phones with contract tracing activated will be able to exchange digital keys with each other over Bluetooth. Those keys can then be used to track everyone you met over a 14-day period. If you come down with COVID-19, you can upload the keys to Apple or Google servers, allowing them to notify everyone you met about their exposure to the virus. Your name and personal information is never revealed, according to Apple and Google.

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