Apple, Google partner on Covid-19 contact tracing Bluetooth technology

Apple, Google partner on Covid-19 contact tracing Bluetooth technology

The aim is that Contact Tracing makes it possible to limit the spread of the virus by alerting participants of recent possible exposure to someone who has subsequently tested positive. And the companies say user privacy and security are central to the design of their proposed approach.

The image above envisages scenarios around privacy-safe contact tracing using Bluetooth Low Energy.

In countries where the impact of Covid-19 has been minimised – for example Taiwan and South Korea – contract tracing has been a major element of a national strategy.


APIs for Android and iOS

Apple, Google partner on Covid-19 contact tracing Bluetooth technologyThe companies write:

A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology. To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.

The APIs will be released in May.

Both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.

And in “coming months”, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into their underlying platforms.

This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.

Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.

Bluetooth Low Energy

Their proposal for privacy-safe contact tracing using Bluetooth Low Energy, for example, would require explicit user consent. While it doesn’t collect personally identifiable information or user location data, a list of people you’ve been in contact with never leaves your phone (detected via Bluetooth LE).

People who test positive are not identified to other users, Google or Apple – the information would only be used for contact tracing by public health authorities for Covid-19 pandemic management. The system would work equally well across Android phones and iPhones.

Contact tracing cryptography

The companies have also provided a technical specification for cryptographic key scheduling for a new
privacy-preserving Bluetooth protocol to support Contact Tracing.

It complements, they say, the existing Bluetooth specification, and is involved with the scheduling of the Bluetooth protocol elements called ‘advertisements‘ and the higher-level lifecycle of the protocol.

Resources

The companies highlight these links:

  • Privacy-safe contact tracing using Bluetooth Low Energy
  • Contact Tracing Bluetooth Specification
  • Contact Tracing Cryptography Specification
  • Android Contact Tracing API

They also salute the work of software developers, who will play their part in the fight against the current global pandemic:

Across the world, governments and health authorities are working together to find solutions to the Covid-19 pandemic, to protect people and get society back up and running. Software developers are contributing by crafting technical tools to help combat the virus and save lives. In this spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.

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