Tech bigwigs Google and Apple have released the first version of their Covid-19 tracing tool this week. Authorities in 23 countries have requested for access to the technology according to reports from the tech firms.
The #COVID19 Exposure Notification technology we built jointly with @Apple is now available to public health agencies in support of their contact tracing efforts. Our goal is to empower them with another tool to help combat the virus while protecting user privacy.
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) May 20, 2020
Making use of apps to accelerate contact tracing has been identified as one of the tools to stem the tide of new outbreaks in the world. These apps could potentially help authorities test more infected individuals than they would normally be able to.
Apple and Google also considered user privacy, as they have prevented authorities using their technology from asking users to input their personal data or requesting their GPS location. This system will use Bluetooth connections between devices to log users in physical proximity for five minutes.
A number of authorities are uncomfortable with this approach, saying that the app-based initiative will be more effective if they could track users’ location to identify hot spots and alert them about possible exposure through texts or calls rather than a push notification.
Norway plans to compare the effectiveness of its Smittestop app with a Google-Apple based app. Smittestop accesses GPS location and needs users’ phone numbers but has seen very limited use due to a low number of infections in the country.
It is believed that this innovation from Google and Apple will be extremely effective in reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus, ensuring that countries reopen as soon as it is safe enough to.