When is the last time you read about Apple and Google coming together to spread the good stuff? Well, never. So you can say that it took a pandemic to get the two tech giants to bring their heads together and collaborate on something for the betterment of society.
The hot word here is ‘contact tracing’, and it feeds governments with the necessary data about the spread of the coronavirus. Since COVID-19 is transmitted through close proximity, it’s the perfect tool for governments and health authorities to track the spread of the virus from an infected person to family members to relatives and friends.
Apple and Google have come together to develop APIs (software code that links apps from different ecosystems together) that will, for once, let Android and iOS devices in close proximity speak to one another and share the resultant data with public authorities. The fresh APIs will basically get baked into apps built by the government.
And in the following months, Apple and Google will include similar capabilities into their own operating systems (iOS, Android and the lot) that will reduce the need for citizens to install multiple apps. Once installed, devices will start talking to each other, basically giving governments information about which device was in close proximity to another, letting them quickly trace a device and its user once a person identifies themselves as a positive case.
Once an infected person lets the app know that they have been infected, it will alert government authorities and let others with an Android or iOS device know that someone in the neighborhood has been infected. Basically, it is meant for the neighbours to take necessary precautions, like staying indoors and maintaining social distancing.
But technology is a two-edged sword and this could also see people panicking even though the exact location of the infected person will never be revealed.
It’s important to note that the software will need user consent to connect to the network and collect nearby data. More so, it does not use GPS (to pinpoint the location of the infected user), but exchanges keys over Bluetooth to give authorities and other users a somewhat approximate idea of a nearby positive case once it has been confirmed by a user.
Out here in India, the government has already launched AarogyaSetu mobile app that connects with other smartphones with app installed and alerts authorities and nearby users about a positive case in the vicinity. The app is available in 11 languages and uses Bluetooth, sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence to alert other users nearby.