In April, Apple and Google announced that they were developing a COVID-19 contract tracing tool. The company has announced the launch of the software which will allow nations to build contact tracing apps if they adopt the privacy-centric model the software is built on.
The two giant companies said they were offering health authorities around the world the platform to aid in their efforts to tame the pandemic.
“The work public health officials are doing humbles us all,” said the two companies in a statement. “Google and Apple are clear that this is not a panacea but we do believe exposure notifications can make a contribution to the broader work of contact tracing,” they said
The software offers developers access to an added Bluetooth function to resolve an issue some existing apps have of iPhones failing to detect each other.
Android and iOS users will be required to carry out system upgrades, with the apps set to have the Bluetooth function on, in the background.
Apple and Google said that public health officials from 22 countries had already asked for the system.
They stressed that although not a silver bullet, user adoption was the key to success of the system, and strong privacy protection was the best way to encourage more people to use it.
Apple and Google laid down a few conditions for adoption of the system: For starters, any app based on their tool must be voluntary. It should not gather geo-location data and not be used for commercial purposes. Secondly, only one app is allowed in every country to avoid competition. It will also be up to the individual phone user to declare if they have been infected by the Coronavirus or not, and lastly, once the pandemic is over, the app must be shut down.
The contact tracing apps work by automatically logging when two people come into close proximity for a significant amount of time.
If one of the users is later diagnosed with Coronavirus, the other person should get an alert which should prompt them to isolate or get tested.
Authorities believe the conditions set as limiting factors towards the fight against the Coronavirus. The decentralized system means that contact matching will be done on the devices rather than on a centrally computer server. This means that if either party takes no action, either to self-isolate, get tested or more importantly, update their status on the device, then it will not be effective.
The conditions set also locks out hackers or authorities from accessing crucial information regarding contacts and their locations, should they need to.
“Not collecting some kinds of data, such as location, is a policy decision, not an engineering one.” Said Benedict Evans, a technology consultant.
Austria was the first country to roll out its contract tracing app. Stopp Corona, operated by the Red Cross, which has already been downloaded more than 600,000 times. The developers, Accenture, are working to build in Apple and Google’s API for an update on 10th June to enable iPhone device holders use it effectively without having to bring the app on-screen.
Germany is also building their app based on the Apple and Google protocol called Corona- Warm-App