Tech giants Apple and Google announced on Friday that they would partner on the development of software and an operating system update to help with contact tracing efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
The partnership will be rolled out in two stages, according to the announcement. First, the companies will release application programming interfaces (APIs) compatible with both the iOS and Android operating systems that would allow public health authorities to create apps that would alert people if they’ve come in contact with someone who'd contracted COVID-19.
These apps will use Bluetooth instead of geolocation to help protect user privacy, and the companies say they will not gather personal identifying information. Once downloaded, the apps will scan for other users in close proximity and remember that encounter. If a user of the app reports being sick with the coronavirus, anyone who has come into contact with that user will be alerted.
“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 announcement said.
According to the announcement, the second stage of the partnership will be built into the operating system itself, forgoing the need to download any apps but still requiring users to opt in. Apple and Google didn’t provide an exact timeline for the second stage, saying only that it’s going to be released “in the coming months.”
Health officials globally have identified the importance of contact tracing — tracking down who may have come into contact with an infected individual. The UK, France, and Germany are reportedly also working on similar initiatives. It’s not clear whether the Google and Apple solution will be rolled out globally or only in the US. According to reporting from the BBC, President Donald Trump is expected to give the initiative his approval at his daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, April 10.
The tech giants have also released extensive documentation for the apps in an attempt to be transparent about how these solutions will work. Apple has also worked with the CDC to release another app with general guidance and best practices surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Apple users can now also ask Siri, the built-in voice assistant, questions like “How do I know if I have the coronavirus?”