Apple and Google are releasing contact tracing technology to help public health officials develop mobile apps that can identify and test people who’ve spent time with or near someone infected with the coronavirus, the companies announced Wednesday.
A number of U.S. states including North Dakota and Alabama and 22 countries have received access to the technology that was designed to help governments better track and contain the spread of the virus, the companies said.
In a statement, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum described the smartphone technology as being “critical to getting communities and economies back up and running.”
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Apple, Google team up on contact tracing:Public health apps using the tech could warn you of coronavirus exposure
Mobile apps using the technology can track users who are in the vicinity of an infected person for at least five minutes and anonymously notify them. The apps will rely on Bluetooth technology, which is commonly used to link wireless speakers and keyboards.
By joining forces, Apple and Google have made it possible to use most smartphones to share information about possible exposure to the virus. But some research suggests that widespread adoption – by some estimates 60% – is needed for mobile apps to be effective in helping to contain an outbreak.
Nearly 3 in 5 Americans said they would be unwilling or would be unable to use Google and Apple's contact tracing technology, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.
Some public health officials have been frustrated by rules set by Apple and Google that prevent them from harvesting the location, phone number and other personal details from users, though mobile apps can ask users to divulge that information.
“User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps,” Apple and Google said in a statement. “Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to exposure notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with Covid-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app.”