Google and Apple team up to develop COVID-19 tracking technology

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Apple and google are teaming up to develop new technology that would let you know whether you’ve come into contact with someone who has the Coronavirus.

“The announcement by google and apple which is the first time we’ve seen collaboration between these I-T giants is really a break through,” said Abraham Seidmann, a professor of computers and information systems at the University of Rochester.  

The technology would work using bluetooth and could be rolled out by mid-May. It’s known as ‘contact tracing’ technology, and it is used to help identify individuals who could be at risk for carrying covid19.

“The current method that everyone is using here is that you interview the person. The problem is if you interview me I rarely remember who I’ve met in the last 14 days,” said Seidmann.

Apple and Google’s proposed tech solution would digitize that process via bluetooth.

Each phone has a unique bluetooth signature. The tool would use that signature and store information to track the people you’ve interacted with for a period of 14 days. You would opt into the tool, and voluntarily report if you get infected.

“If one of those people who had the machine comes back and says, hello, I have covid-19. My phone would go back through the history of the last 14 days and see, did I interact with that person,” explained Seidmann.

The technology has some worried about privacy.

“When all the information is in one place, it’s also a big attraction for hackers. The point it this: privacy is important, but saving lives is the utmost important.” said Seidmann.

Both apple and google say they have strong protections in place to make sure the data is anonymized and individuals aren’t identified. Among those protections, is the fact that apple and google’s proposal wouldn’t involve tracking your location via GPS. The technology would solely rely on bluetooth signals. Seidmann said this could also be a disadvantage.

“Securely sharing location information is the only way to identify Coronavirus hotspots, contagion clusters  and virus carriers who may not yet exhibit symptoms but who are already spreading the disease,” said Seidmann.  

Contact tracing technology is already being used in Singapore, Israel, and China to track the spread of the virus. The method used to do the tracing varies per country, with some developers opting for GPS and others bluetooth technology.

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