We all have heard about the war that rages on between Android and iOS users, right? Imagine the shock when Google and Apple decided to enter into an unprecedented collaboration! Google and Apple are working together in the hopes of developing a unique smartphone-based app system that is capable of determining if anyone has been close to someone with COVID-19 using digital contact tracing. The Bluetooth based technology will commence rolling out on both devices from mid-May.
Most of the world is currently under lockdown and is observing the strict stay-at-home orders. And many are questioning about re-emerging without becoming a victim of any subsequent viral outbreaks. In order to re-emerge and avoid spreading COVID-19 over the next year or two while the world awaits a vaccine will require contact tracing. Contact tracing is best described as public health detective work.
Once a person is confirmed to be infected by a disease, it becomes crucial to identify the people that they have been in contact with during the time that led up to their diagnosis. This helps potential patients to get tested and self-isolate. A recent study that was led by researchers from Oxford University and published in the journal Science, suggested that the conventional contact tracing methods might prove to be too slow or ineffective when it comes to ceasing the spread of coronavirus. The study concluded that digital contact tracing techniques might be the best possible way of slowing down transmission.
Christophe Fraser, the lead author of the study, said, ‘Our analysis suggests that about half of transmissions occur in the early phase of the infection before you show any symptoms of infection. Our mathematical models also highlight that traditional public health contact tracing approaches provide incomplete data and cannot keep up with the pace of this pandemic.’ The solution that has been proposed by Google and Apple aims to balance the efficacy while making sure that the privacy of users that opt-in remains protected. The system will not be making use of the GPS location but rather will only rely on Bluetooth technology.
This particular solution will have a log of other smartphones that it has been in close proximity with and if a person tests positive for COVID-19, they can register the diagnosis via an app that will then notify other users that have been in close proximity of the infected person. How the privacy aspect is being catered? The Bluetooth contact logs will remain on the individual’s phone and all of the match identification processes happen locally on the user’s phone. Furthermore, the identity of those who are tested positive for COVID-18 will not be disclosed to other users.
The system is set to be rolled out in two installments. The first one will be comprised of releasing an API (Application Programming Interface) that can be used for apps designed by different public health authorities to begin interacting with the digital contact tracing data. The second phase will involve a larger update to the iOS and Android system wherein the contact tracing tool will be integrated into the OS of your smartphone. However, it will be an opt-in feature!
The two companies said in a joint statement, ‘Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.’