Apple and Google released new technology that will allow developers to create smartphone apps that can notify users if they were exposed to a person who has contracted the coronavirus. The two companies said in a joint statement that a number of states have been given access to the new tools, which use Bluetooth to identify anybody nearby who may have been exposed to the virus.
While other countries have tried to build their own contact tracing apps, they found little success in getting people to use them. Additionally, the apps were riddled with bugs and did not work seamlessly between iOS and Android devices. One of the key issues was privacy, with many people uncomfortable sharing their location and personal health information with government officials.
To try and solve the privacy issues, the new technology will use encryption to hide the identity of users, and people will not be required to provide their personal details, including their phone number or location, to use the apps.
“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.”
According to USA Today, about 60% of the population would need to download the apps in order to successfully contain the outbreak. However, a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that nearly 60% of Americans would not be willing to download a contact tracing app.
The two tech companies said that several U.S. states, including North Dakota, Alabama, and South Carolina, are working on creating smartphone apps using the technology.
“We invite other states to join us in leveraging smartphone technologies to strengthen existing contact tracing efforts, which are critical to getting communities and economies back up and running,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
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