On April 29, 2020, Google and Apple released the first version of their COVID-19 contact tracing tools to public health organizations. The tools, first announced by the companies on April 10th, aim to help public health agencies build apps to track and contain the virus. This article discusses how the contact tracing tools work, the planned two-phase implementation for the tools, and some of the privacy questions around the tools.
How Do the Tools Work?
“Contact-tracing” is not a new concept. The concept is that a society can limit the spread of a virus by tracing whom a person who has tested positive with a virus has recently come in contact with, and notifying those individuals to further prevent the spread of the virus. For example, if John tests positive for the virus and visits a grocery store, part of the contact tracing process would be to find and notify those individuals who came close to him in the grocery store. As you can imagine, contact tracing has historically been a laborious and inaccurate process that requires a manual review of an infected person’s interactions.
Google and Apple’s partnership aims to dramatically improve the contact tracing process by using Bluetooth technology within an infected person’s cell phone to determine whom the person has interacted with and notifying those other people. The partnership is particularly notable because it involves the creation of shared standards between two tech giants that rarely allow for any interoperability. Below is an example of how the tools work:
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