Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations.
The new system, which is laid out in a series of documents and white papers, would use short-range Bluetooth communications to establish a voluntary contact-tracing network, keeping extensive data on phones that have been in close proximity with each other. Official apps from public health authorities will get access to this data, and users who download them can report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. The system will also alert people who download them to whether they were in close contact with an infected person.
This is a clever use of technology, but as always, what can be used for good, can also be used for evil. A technology like this certainly seems useful in our current worldwide predicament, but it’s not hard to imagine what can be done with it that might be more nefarious. That being said, it’s refreshing to see these companies working together for the good of their users for once, instead of the constant hostility towards users to create platform lock-in and shareholder value.
In any event, the APIs for this new system will arrive in iOS and Android over the coming months – through a regular OS update on iOS, and through Google Play on Android.