Over the Easter weekend, an unusual cooperation attracted attention: Google and Apple want to jointly develop a Bluetooth interface for recording coronavirus cases. The cooperation should make it easier for authorities and organizations to develop tracking apps for iOS and Android. A joint tracking app is also already being planned.
For the past two weeks, US rivals Google and Apple have been working together on a procedure that will enable cross-platform tracking of all smartphone users. The tech companies primarily want to create a common interface with which authorities and organizations can provide COVID-19 tracking applications for smartphone users.
The transaction data of persons is particularly important for this. However, it must also be possible to record a coronavirus infection across platforms in order to interrupt infection chains at an early stage. In this way, smartphone users are informed if they have been in direct proximity to an infected person in the past few days. Google and Apple declare that no personal data will be transmitted – neither to smartphone users nor to the tech companies themselves. The technology relies on the exchange of anonymous keys, which change every 15 minutes, to protect data privacy. Google and Apple published two graphics to illustrate this:
According to the news, smartphones are to communicate across platforms via Bluetooth in order to register an encrypted encounter. Medical results must be entered manually by users in an app so that contact persons of the last 14 days can be notified. This is done automatically, as each smartphone regularly downloads all keys from infected contacts in the vicinity. As soon as there is a match, the app sounds the alarm and gives owners further information and recommendations for action.
Google and Apple have already provided more detailed information on the intended data protection-safe contact tracking:
- Explicit consent of the user required
- Does not collect personal data or user location data
- The list of people you’ve had contact with never leaves your phone
- People who test positive are not identified to other users, Google, or Apple
- Data only provided to health authorities managing the COVID-19 pandemic
- It doesn’t matter whether you have an Android phone or an iPhone, it works across platforms
In May, Apple and Google plan to release APIs that will enable communication between iOS and Android devices using health authority apps. This means that only certified apps from public authorities should have access to Bluetooth technology, such as the new data donation app from the Robert Koch Institute. In a second step, both companies want to work on a more comprehensive Bluetooth-based platform for contact measurements, as Google writes in the corresponding blog entry. In other words, they are working on a joint app. It is not yet clear when this will be rolled out.