Apple and Google today announced a joint effort to create Bluetooth-enabled technology, in addition to cross-platform APIs, that will allow for global contact tracing via Android and iOS devices. The companies note that the initiative will operate on an opt-in basis and is being designed with user privacy in mind.
Apple’s announcement of the partnership states that this initiative is meant to act as an extension of efforts already underway by global health authorities:
“... public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology.”
The initial plan is for Apple and Google to develop APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices. This interoperability will be limited to communication between applications that are developed by partnering health authorities and target contact tracing initiatives. This initial API-centric phase is expected to be introduced sometime in May 2020.
The two companies are also working on a broader effort that will result in a Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform that is integrated directly into the underlying platforms. This second effort is meant to expand access to tracing initiatives and create an ecosystem of apps and government health authorities. Importantly, Apple had this to say about its intention to ensure data privacy:
“... Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.”
Anyone interested in the gritty details can check out the co-published draft technical documentation.