The two technology giants Apple and Google are working together to build a COVID-19 contact tracking tool to assist and help people exposed to the virus. This system will track the spread of the novel coronavirus disease and inform all those who are potentially exposed to enable them to get tested. As per documents and white papers, the system would use short-range Bluetooth communications to come up with a contact -tracing network, maintaining substantial data on the phones that have been nearby in a specific period. The system will notify all the people that have come in contact with a coronavirus affected person.
Public health authorities of different nations and international public health organizations will have access to this data. Individuals who download the official apps of such organizations can report their illness if affected by the virus. Moreover, all those people who download these applications will get alerts if they are in close proximity to a virus-infected individual.
The first phase of the joint project by Google and Apple will be introduced as an API that ensures public health agencies can implement it into their own apps. In the next stage, in the months after the API is complete, the companies will work on the creation of a system-level COVID-19 contact tracing functionality as an option available to everyone across iOS and Android services on an opt-in basis.
This method transmits information across short-range Bluetooth communications using a technology called Bluetooth beaconing. Signals of nearby phones are detected and the connections between them are stored in a database, at a time period of 5-minute intervals. To detect the proximity of persons with COVID-19 infections, the servers relay the last 14 days of rotating IDs to other phones, and then looks for a match.
The COVID-19 contact tracking tool and its methods are still in its nascent stages with some potential weaknesses. Especially for people living in flats or crowded areas like cities, based on the distance assessment of its logic and method, even people living in adjacent rooms, not in close contact with an affected person could be flagged. Some other criteria like people working closely with an infected person and people just passing by may have a different probability of getting affected by the virus. It is also less effective when there is low connectivity, which is a drawback.
That being said, Google and Apple are working closely with public health authorities on how to run the system. These technological innovations may not necessarily replace the traditional and long followed techniques of contact tracing, but they definitely can augment the process, giving an additional option for users and authorities to counter the disease spread.