Apple and Google Solve Privacy Issues with Coronavirus Tracking Technology

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Background by Pixabay / Photo by Angela Lang / CNET

For the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

As businesses and governments around the world fight coronavirus pandemic, Apple and Google are making changes to the contact tracing technology they have developed to help inform people when they may have been exposed to the virus.

The contact tracing technology, which the two companies have been working on for just over a month, was initially designed to help people be alerted if someone they have been in contact with for 14 days has been diagnosed with coronavirus. When the project was first announced, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google chief Sundar Pichai promised that the technology would be built with privacy in mind.


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Explanation of contact tracking: how apps can slow coronavirus

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Technology basically works by helping Apple iPhones or devices powered by Google’s Android software communicate between them. They do this by sending each other Bluetooth radio signals that are stored on the phones. If a person is then confirmed to have coronavirus, their phones send a new signal alerting all phones with which they have come into contact in the previous 14 days.

Apple and Google’s efforts are just the latest means by big tech companies to fight the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 200,000 people worldwide and infected more than 2.7 million people.

In truth, the life sciences branch of Google’s parent company Alphabet launched a website last month that gives people in California information about virus testing. The website, developed in partnership with the White House, allows people to complete the symptoms and complete an online review.

Last month, Google also announced that it is committing more than $ 800 million to help small businesses and responders to a crisis in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Apple and Google have also started manufacturing and distributing protective equipment for healthcare workers.

Now, with this new coronavirus tracking technology, two of Silicon Valley’s biggest rivals hope to help create apps that will help us get back to normal while waiting for a vaccine or other means to fight the virus.

New privacy protections

Apple and Google have said the technology will be opt-in, which means it won’t be activated by default. The companies will offer programming tools to developers in mid-May, allowing health authorities to create applications with this new technology. Second, Apple and Google plan to offer software updates to more than 2 billion active devices worldwide using their software by the end of the year.

Apple said it includes any phone that can power iOS 13, the company’s latest software, which works on devices iPhone 6S, which was originally released in 2015.

Businesses started discussing the project two weeks ago, publicly sharing the first planning documents to provide security researchers, partners and critics with a way to start verifying the technology.

To provide added security, Apple and Google have said they will change the contact finder to use better encryption, scrambling any identifying information to ensure people cannot be tracked. Businesses also protect all potentially identifiable information on a person’s phone, such as the model of phone they are using or the signal strength of their transmissions.

Apple and Google are turning to health officials to build apps, the companies said, but they will also provide assistance. The companies said it would be easy to create an app for this project. And for health officials who don’t want to build their own, they can use a premade app that can be renamed.

Call it “exposure notification”

Companies are also changing the terminology they use, moving away from the widely used term ” contact trackingWhich could heighten the anxiety of privacy concerns. Instead, they call this system “exposure notification”, saying that it better describes the functionality of the program while companies insist that the program “preserves confidentiality”. “

It’s still not clear whether Apple and Google’s software will win people over. The companies admitted that they did not know the minimum number of people opting for the system to be effective. Experts estimate that at least half of the population should participate, which means that companies should potentially convince billions of people to register.

As part of their efforts to attract people, Apple and Google have promised to dismantle the system when the coronavirus crisis passes. This will include closing the application programming interface, or API, designed to work with public health applications being created.

“The promise that Apple and Google will close the API is welcome,” said Jennifer Stisa Granick, ACLU surveillance and cybersecurity advisor, said earlier this month. “We just want to make sure that this is something that is verifiable, and that there will be an independent review to make sure that the commitments they made are something they honor. “

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