One of the most astounding but live-saving collaborations of our time is becoming a reality, as Google and Apple have teamed up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by pledging to build viable contact-tracing tools for their respective mobile operating systems. Mark Gurman, a veteran Apple news breaker tweeted on Wednesday that the early contact tracing beta for developers has gone live.
Today, Apple, Google release the first Covid-19 Contact Tracing/Exposure Notification development tools to app makers. That includes Xcode 11.5, iOS 13.5 beta 3 (changed from 13.4.5), and a beta update from Google Play.— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) April 29, 2020
"Today, Apple, Google release the first Covid-19 Contact Tracing/Exposure Notification development tools to app makers. That includes Xcode 11.5, iOS 13.5 beta 3 (changed from 13.4.5), and a beta update from Google Play," tweeted Gurman.
Apple and Google's COVID-19 contact tracing betas
Both company's contact tracing systems use the Bluetooth antenna already built into smartphones to ping other smartphone antennas in close proximity. Combining this data with people who voluntarily self-report their coronavirus status, it's possible to know when a user has passed into the vicinity of another who's potentially contracted the COVID-19 illness — all without giving up anyone's identity.
The goal for the new contact tracing systems is to help people know when they should self-quarantine, while also giving governments the and healthcare organizations to identify where resources needed to fight the virus should be allocated, in addition to at-risk areas on course to become infection hotspots.
UPDATE April 2:10 PM EDT: Privacy is paramount, say Apple and Google
It's important to note that Big Tech's track record for respecting user privacy is not perfect, which means many people are understandably concerned that the companies' contact tracing systems may put too much power in the hands of Google and Apple. To rebut, both companies have offered reassurance that the services will remain opt-in, and have published an FAQ to answer consumer concerns.
Meanwhile, the U.K. government is building its own contact-tracing platform completely independent of Google and Apple — but sources say the nation's solution may have its own privacy issues, as the country carries on human trials of a possible COVID-19 vaccine. It should go without saying the weeks and months ahead will see privacy advocates going rounds with Google and Apple's contact-tracing platforms.
For now, the best attitude to take toward both camps is probably skepticism, but the need to maintain privacy becomes increasingly difficult to justify in light of the U.S. government's less-than-popular policies since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is breaking news, so be sure to return here for the latest developments.
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