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Google And Apple Collaborate On Ground-Breaking COVID-19 Tracing For Gov Apps

Google and Apple are pairing up to create a platform to trace COVID-19 infections that will be built into the apps of governments, health authorities and health agencies.

This contact tracing would eventually make it possible to alert participants when they have possibly been in contact with someone who has been positively diagnosed with COVID-19.

In May, both companies will release application programming interfaces (APIs) that will enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices on apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available to download on Google Playstore and Apple’s App store.

Further down the track, “in the coming months”, Apple and Google plan on enabling their broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform, which would be built into existing apps. Google and Apple’s joint statement said: “This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.”

In this second phase, the joint ‘Contact Detection Service’ would use Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) for proximity detection of nearby smartphones to implement data exchange and contact tracing.

The diagram below illustrates how the information would be shared and protected between devices.

Source: https://covid19-static.cdn-apple.com/applications/covid19/current/static/contact-tracing/pdf/ContactTracing-BluetoothSpecificationv1.1.pdf

Throughout the statement, the companies reiterated that strong protections around user privacy would be maintained. They stated: “Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort.”

As a means of protecting user privacy, the Contact Tracing Bluetooth Specification would not use location data for proximity detection, it would strictly use Bluetooth beaconing to detect proximity.

At the moment, it sounds like this platform and said apps would be entirely optional, but a COVID-19 tracing app wouldn’t be very effective if no one wanted to use it.

ChannelNews contacted the federal government about whether the Coronavirus Australia app, which currently provides official information and advice on the COVID-19 situation, will be adding tracing capabilities.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health told ChannelNews: “The Australian Government is aware of the work Google and Apple are undertaking to increase the capabilities of their systems, and support contact tracing around the world. Any decisions in relation to such measures are for National Cabinet.”

Under their partnership, Google and Apple have released draft technical documentation, including Bluetooth specification, cryptography specification, and framework API, which can be viewed here.

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