Covid-19: Apple and Google team up to create contact tracking application

Publishers of iOS and Android, Apple and Google are working hand in hand to develop a mobile application for tracking patients with Covid-19 and alerting people in contact. It should be ready in May.

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron confirmed in his speech Monday night, France will adopt implementing mobile tracing contact ( Contact tracing English) to allow monitoring of infected people and prevent people with who they will have been in contact with. Called ”  StopCovid  “, it remains unclear in its capabilities and availability, but the good news is that two major players have decided to bring their expertise: Apple and Google .

In a joint statement , the publishers of iOS and Android , which represent 100% of the market for mobile operating systems , announce that they will make available to developers and various public health authorities an API of ” contact tracing “ to fight the epidemic . This will be effective in May.

Integrate the duration and distance of a contact

The first information is that it will be interoperable, and an Android smartphone can therefore communicate with an iPhone . Then, thanks to Bluetooth , this API will be able to both alert a person who has been in contact with a carrier of the coronavirus , but also be more precise in this proximity and the duration of contact. At The Verge, Apple explains that the objective is to differentiate between two people who meet on the street, and two people who sit next to each other for five minutes. Clearly, there is no point in alerting person B if contact with patient A was a few seconds, five meters away. In turn, no need to contact the relatives of person B.

The problem is that, as it stands, Bluetooth is not able to record this data (duration and distance) and it is nevertheless essential to avoid unnecessary alerts, which can be recorded under the name of ” false positive “. The work of Apple and Google focus on this obstacle, and the objective is therefore to integrate the duration and the distance during a contact during the exchange between two smartphones.

Installation in two stages

In the diagrams and documents posted online by Apple and Google, we also learn that this collaboration will take place in two stages. First, and because there is an emergency, there are therefore these applications that will be available for download and used on a voluntary basis and anonymously. Health authorities will therefore have the choice, or not, to opt for the solution developed by Google and Apple.

Then, in the coming months, Apple and Google want to directly integrate their solution inside iOS and Android to allow permanent monitoring, always on a voluntary basis. The goal is to allow a permanent user base, and no longer depend on the installation of an application. Everything will be in the operating system, natively.

Obviously, the question of data confidentiality will be essential, especially since Google and Apple are very often attacked on the respect of privacy. The two giants ensure that the geolocation of users will not be taken into account. However, we imagine that the physical location of the patients, at least the population movements , will be an important data for the health authorities to follow the epidemic after the deconfinement.