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How Apple and Google intend to control the spread of the coronavirus with contact tracking



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Contact tracking can help public health officials slow the spread of the coronavirus.


Angela Lang / CNET

Visit the WHO website for the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic.

In the fight against coronavirus Apple and Google are working together to help public health officials build apps to track the spread of the disease from person to person. However, the two Silicon Valley giants will not make the apps themselves. Instead, they now provide the tools and resources health organizations can use to build their own contact discovery apps . Along with antibody testing and nasal smear testing, contact tracking is considered one of the cornerstones health authorities will use to control the spread of COVID-19 and decide how and when their cities and regions & # 39; s should be reopened as we are waiting for a vaccine .

The goal of contact detection is simple enough: to compile a list of people who have come close to an infected person and who are using that information to keep exposed people isolated so they don't & # 39; do not transmit the disease to others. But the work it takes to do effective tracking is tough, and Google and Apple are involved because modern contact tracking can use your phone and its Bluetooth technology – something Apple and Google know a lot about – to check with who getting close

But contact tracking also raises a worrying problem – privacy and security concerns – that Google, Apple, and health organizations must overcome for tracking to be effective. Here's what you need to know about contact tracking and how it will be used in the U.S. and around the world to slow the spread of the corona virus and reopen the economy. This story will often be updated to reflect new information as the situation develops in response to COVID-19.

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What is contact tracking?

Contact tracking is a long accepted – and until recently unknown – tool used by public health officials to identify individuals who may have come close to someone who has tested positive for any disease – not just COVID-19.

The old-fashioned way, health officials interviewed an infected person to compile a list of everyone who saw or spoke to the person in question, and where they have been while they were contagious. The officials then contact everyone on the list to tell them they've been exposed, what steps to take if they have symptoms, and how they can't infect others.

To fight this particular coronavirus pandemic, our phones have the potential to do this annoying contact tracking for us, and keep a running list of other phones that fall within the Bluetooth tracking range, less than two meters away from you .

If a person becomes infected, health officials can notify those they came to while they are infectious with advice on how to monitor symptoms, take care of themselves, and prevent the spread of the virus.

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CNET

What Phones Have To Do With Tracking Contacts

Writing a written history is labor intensive and time consuming. By using the Bluetooth technology already found in your phone, a much faster response is possible. Here's how it works: A phone uses a public health app in conjunction with Bluetooth to broadcast a unique ID to nearby phones and listen to unique IDs from other phones with the health app installed.

For a simplistic example, when we pass each other in the store, the identification of my phone can be 123456, while yours can be 654321. Each phone keeps a 14-day running list of other phones that have been around. To make sure that the system does not warn you about unimportant contacts – such as someone driving by in a car – your phone only records unique identifying information that is within a meter of you for a certain period of time, such as 10 or 15

If then someone tests positive, gives the doctor or lab that took the test a code to enter the public health app. That code causes the app to upload the person's unique identifier to a public health server. The server then warns anyone who has been within three feet of the infected person to at least isolate themselves or perhaps test for the coronavirus themselves.

Isolating individuals who may have contracted the virus is especially important because many are asymptomatic but can still transmit the disease to others, who can then develop life-threatening symptoms and even die.

How Apple and Google work together

Using our phones to track contacts will be most effective if a large majority of us participate in it. Oxford University estimates that 60% of the population must use telephones to track a pandemic, although lower adoption rates will slow spread.

Between the two companies, Apple and Google own nearly 100 percent of the global mobile phone market. – which may offer the broadest platform for digital contact tracking. Therefore, the two tech giants said they will work together to build Bluetooth-based contact tracking in their phones and help public health authorities take advantage of those opportunities to build their own contact-tracing apps.

Apple and Google do not build the apps. Instead, they provide the tools that health authorities can use to build apps that connect to a shared base on iPhone and Android. The two companies have just released their initial collection tools that government agencies can use to build their own tracking apps. The companies said 22 countries and a handful of US states – including Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina – have requested access to the tools. The two companies expect to grant access to more states and countries in the coming weeks.

Contact tracking is already used all over the world

Countries including the UK Singapore Australia and others all over Europe have already built contact contacts to detect or create apps to have.

Israel rolled out a similar monitoring system in March, saying the mandatory system will continue for 30 days.

Will using the contact tracking apps be mandatory?

Israel's monitoring program is (temporarily) required, but Apple and Google are urging US officials to make the contact tracking system voluntary, with participants signing up for the service, on the advice of the ACLU.

The Privacy Impact of Contact Tracing

For contact tracing on our phones to be effective, a majority of us must collect a list and then share it with our local authorities from everyone we've been around for 14 days . But for those who were already concerned about the loss of individual privacy and the misuse of personal data by technology companies, the fact that government agencies have access to even more personal information raises concerns about how responsible the agencies will be with the data . [19659016] Apple and Google said they are building in protections to protect privacy. Contact logs stored on the phone do not contain any personally identifiable information: if you are notified you know that you have been in contact with someone who is sick, but you do not know who or where.

The companies said they are identifying information to ensure people cannot be tracked. And to avoid being monitored on site, the randomly generated unique ID your phone transmits changes every 10 to 20 minutes. The service is only available to public health officials.

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Both companies have said that they will stop the service on a regional basis when the pandemic ends . Apple and Google, along with public health officials, hope enough to convince a skeptical population to install and use contact-tracing apps on a large scale.

Contact-tracing apps are a way to monitor the patterns and movements of the coronavirus before we obtain a viable vaccine . For more information on controlling the spread of the coronavirus, here's what you need to know about COVID-19 assays . Also learn how to protect yourself how herd immunity can help and how to make your own face mask .


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