Apple and Google jointly launch new tool to improve contact tracing apps

Apple and Google have joined hands to launch a new tool that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively.

Starting May 21, the Exposure Notifications technology by the two tech giants will be available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android.

"What we’ve built is not an app – rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install," the companies said in a joint statement, adding that the technology is designed to make the contact tracing apps work better.

An example of such apps is the TraceTogether, which was developed by Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) and Government Technology Agency (GovTech).  

Photo courtesy: Unsplash
Photo courtesy: Unsplash

One of the most effective techniques that public health officials have used during outbreaks is called contact tracing. Through this approach, public health officials contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person.

One new element of contact tracing is Exposure Notifications – that is, using privacy-preserving digital technology to tell someone they may have been exposed to the virus. Exposure Notification has the specific goal of rapid notification, which is especially important to slowing the spread of a virus can be spread asymptomatically.   

For the Exposure Notifications technology developed by Google and Apple, the 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.

"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," the tech giants said.