Apple, Google Partner with NHS to Trace COVID-19 Contact

The tech giants are using Bluetooth alerts to track when people come in contact with COVID-19 symptoms.

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Need to Know

  • Apple and Google are partnering to work on Bluetooth technology that will allow governments and health organizations to easily conduct contact tracing.
  • Contact tracing is the practice of tracking those who have tested positive for a virus—in this case, COVID-19—and sending alerts to people if they have come in contact and could be at risk.
  • The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is reportedly working closely with Apple and Google to build an app that can trace citizens who have been in contact with the virus.
  • A pre-release version of the app will be tested in Northern England this week. Citizens can send a yellow alert if they have self-diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms and other people pass by for extended periods, while those who have tested positive will send red alerts urging others to go into self-isolation.
  • A verification code will be given alongside positive test results in order to curb false warnings.

Analysis

Late last week, Apple and Google announced that they are partnering to develop Bluetooth technology hat would allow governments and health organizations to track people who have come in contact with COVID-19. The method, called contact tracing, will stress privacy but allow people to understand where and when they may have been near a positive test result.

Starting next month, the two tech powerhouses will release APIs that will allow interoperability between iOS and Android devices when it comes to public health apps. Beyond that, the two will begin building contact tracing support directly into their separate operating systems, noting that system-level support will bring more people on board and allow for contact tracing to actually fulfill its duty.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.”

Apple and Google plan to publish a large part of their research and work in order to remain transparent and work with large trusted public entities.

The first such organization will reportedly be the UK’s NHS, the main healthcare provider for England. Bluetooth alerts will be sent to people if they have been in contact with others who are displaying symptoms or have tested positive.

A pre-release version of the app will be tested in Northern England this week. People can send a yellow alert if they have self-diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms and other people pass by for extended periods, while those who have tested positive will send red alerts urging others who have recently been in contact with them to go into self-isolation.

“If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus, you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days, even before you had symptoms so that they know and can act accordingly,” said Matt Hancock, UK health secretary, at a press conference.

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