When two companies of the name, stature and influence of Apple and Google decide to join forces, the whole world is paying attention. The two conglomerates are working on a Bluetooth-based, contact-tracing technology that will aid the fight against COVID-19.
The well-documented “feud” between iOS and Android will ceasefire, and in the next couple of months we will see them exchanging information using apps from public health authorities. The main goal is building the technology that will help trace the virus.
As mentioned in the official announcement from Apple and Google alike “…Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.”
Is Privacy at Risk?
This seems to be a question that has maintained its value in the COVID-19 reality we are now experiencing. How much of our personal data will we be sharing with Apple and Google and are we essentially sacrificing our privacy to have a shot at defeating the virus? The short answer is no.
Both companies have placed a lot of emphasis in creating tech that holds privacy concerns at heart. The apps will work on a voluntary basis with users willingly entering their diagnosis and there will be no use of any GPS tracking technology. The European Union’s Data Protection Supervisor’s initial evaluation is positive, stating the following: “The initiative will require further assessment, however, after a quick look it seems to tick the right boxes as regards user choice, data protection by design and pan-European interoperability.”
To further enforce the transparent measures taken by the two companies is the release of documents like the “Contact Tracing: Bluetooth Specification” by Apple and the “Privacy-safe contact tracing using Bluetooth Low Energy” by Google. Both documents are not as detailed as one would hope but they reflect the urgency of the matter and fact that we are still in the early stages of this process. What matters the most is the intention for clarity and transparency. Apple also released documents regarding Cryptography Specifications and Framework API and can be found here.
The idea and vision of the two biggest tech players in the market are certainly the biggest takeaway from this effort. It’s beautiful to see two companies that have been fighting for market share and tech dominance since their inception to unite with the common goal of serving humanity in a time of need. The outcome of their efforts remains to be seen and will be based on a number of factors such as user participation.
We will be revisiting this topic in the coming weeks, keeping a close eye on the development of this technology.