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Everything we know about the Google/Apple COVID-19 contact tracing tech

Creeping erosion of privacy? Desperately needed technology-based solution to a global life-or-death problem? A little of both? Here is what we think we know now about the Apple/Google contact tracing technology announced on Friday.

What has happened?

Apple and Google are working together to develop COVID-19 contact tracing technology for both Android and iOS devices.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” the companies said in a statement announcing the move.

The two giant corporations have published draft technical documentation, including Bluetooth and cryptography specifications and framework documentation.

Here is what they say:

“Across the world, governments and health authorities are working together to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect people and get society back up and running. Software developers are contributing by crafting technical tools to help combat the virus and save lives. In this spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.”

And what Tim Cook said:

In a Tweet, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with [Google] to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency and consent.”

Why is this technology needed?

Public health officials worldwide believe contact tracing can be used to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Mobile telecoms, other companies and governments are using contact tracing in an attempt to mitigate its spread.

What this means in practice is that mobile networks are sharing with governments the data they hold about people’s movements, something that alarms privacy advocates who see it as a potential move toward surveillance state.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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