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How Apple and Google will fight the spread of coronavirus with contact detection



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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.

Apple and Google are working together to help build apps aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus . The Giants of Silicon Valley don't make the apps themselves, but they will provide the backbone health organizations need to build contact discovery apps . Along with antibody testing and nasal smear testing, contact tracking is considered one of the most powerful tools to limit the spread of the virus's deadly disease.

The purpose of contact tracking is simple: to build 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 transmit the disease to others. Google and Apple are involved because modern contact tracking relies on maps and your phone's Bluetooth technology, something both Apple and Google know about.

But contact tracking also presents a worrying problem. – privacy and security concerns – that Google, Apple and health organizations need to 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 down the spread of the coronavirus. 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 tool used by public health officials to identify individuals who may have come close to someone who has tested positive for a 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 an individual 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 in your phone, you can respond much faster. 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 ensure 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 located a few meters away from you for a certain period of time, such as 10 or 15

Then someone tests positive, the doctor or lab that took the test gives 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 [19659015] Using our phones to track contacts is most effective when a large majority of us participate. 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 would work together to build Bluetooth-based contact tracking in their phones and that public health authorities could use those capabilities to build their own contact tracking apps.

Apple and Google do not build the apps. Instead, they provide the tools for health authorities to build apps that connect to the shared base on iPhone and Android. The two companies said they expect to have the first instruments ready for health authorities by May and plan to extend the instruments in the coming months to allow for wider participation.

Contact tracking is already in use around the world

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

Israel rolled out a similar surveillance system in March, saying the mandatory system would last for 30 days.

Will using the apps for contact tracking be mandatory? (temporarily) required, but Apple and Google are urging U.S. officials to make the contact tracking system voluntary, with participants signing up for the service, on the advice of the ACLU.

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 to be. But for those already concerned with the loss of individual privacy and the misuse of personal data by technology companies, giving access to public institutions to even more personal information raises concerns about the agencies' responsibility for 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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