Apple, Google plan software to slow virus, joining global debate on tracking

Apple, Google plan software to slow virus, joining global debate on tracking

Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc.’s Google said on Friday that they will work together to create contact tracking technology that aims to slow down the spread of the corona virus by allowing users to log in to other phones that they use in the nearby. The rare collaboration between the two Silicon Valley companies, whose operating systems power 99% of the world’s smartphones, could accelerate the use of apps aimed at testing or quarantining potentially infected individuals faster and more reliably than existing ones systems in much of the world. Such detection will play a critical role in managing the virus once the lock commands have ended, health experts say.

The planned technology also throws the weight of technology leaders into a global conflict between privacy advocates who support a decentralized system to track down contacts and governments in Europe and Asia by pushing centralized approaches that have technical weaknesses and potentially leave governments know who people are dealing with. “With Apple and Google, you get all the public health features you need with a decentralized and privacy-friendly app,” said Michael Veale, a law professor at University College London, involved in the European contact tracking system DP3T. Centralized solutions such as those proposed in Britain and France would “stop working” under the new technology, he said.

To be effective, the Silicon Valley system would require millions of people to sign up for the system, relying on the security measures taken by the technology companies, and on smooth oversight by public health systems. The companies said they started developing the technology two weeks ago to streamline the technical differences between Apple & # 39; s iPhones and Google & # 39; s Android that had hampered the interoperability of some existing contact tracking apps.

Under the plan, users’ phones with the technology will transmit unique Bluetooth signals. Phones within a meter or two can record anonymous meeting information. People who test a positive virus may choose to send an encrypted list of phones they got near Apple and Google, potentially sending notifications to potentially exposed users to find out more information. Public health authorities should sign that a person has tested positive before he can pass the data.

The logs will be encrypted to keep infected individuals’ data anonymous, even to Apple, Google, and to contact app makers, the companies said. Apple and Google said their contact tracking system will not track the GPS location. “It is to their credit that Apple and Google have announced an approach that appears to mitigate the worst privacy and centralization risks,” said Jennifer Granick, regulator and cybersecurity advisor, American Civil Liberties Union.

Apple and Google plan to release software tools in mid-May to contact tracking apps that they and the public health authorities approve. Apps, including Private Kit and CoEpi, who contacted Apple and Google a month ago, said the new tools would allow them to drop potentially untrustworthy solutions. Apps can focus on developing a simple interface for users and health professionals, with Apple and Google addressing Bluetooth and privacy issues, said Dana Lewis, a lead developer of CoEpi, a contact tracking app.

However, Apple and Google plan to release software updates in the coming months so that users don’t need a separate app to log phones nearby. Google said the tools and updates are not available when the services are blocked, such as in China or on unofficial Android devices. Apple will be distributing the technology as an update to its iPhone operating system.

A median of 76% of people in the United States and other advanced economies have smartphones, according to a Pew Research Center study last year, compared to a median of 45% in emerging economies. Governments around the world are struggling to use software intended to improve the normally labor-intensive contact-finding process, with health officials going to recent contacts of an infected person and asking them to quarantine or be tested.

“It’s very interesting, but a lot of people are concerned about it in terms of a person’s freedom. We’re going to take a look at that, a very strong look at it,” said US President Donald Trump at a news conference about the efforts of Apple and Google. Health experts have attributed extensive testing and contact tracking to slow the spread of the virus in countries such as South Korea, but limited testing has held back contact tracking in the United States.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told Reuters on Friday that tracking will only be helpful if the virus is managed, with apps that may prove useful when someone has passed many people. “This is not a substitute for testing – you need to know who has it – but it delivers actionable results so people can act responsibly, isolate themselves, and reduce anxiety in the community as a whole,” said Al Gidari, a Stanford University law professor and formerly external advisor at Google.

(This story has not been edited by staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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