Apple and Google explain their contact tracking technology

News Technology

The alliance between Apple and Google against COVID-19 is not easy to understand, so companies have launched an initiative to help you understand it.

On Friday, April 24, the two technology giants released answers to frequently asked questions about creating contact tracking technology to explain what the contact tracing technique is and how it works, how it helps stop the spread of COVID-19, how User privacy and security and government access to this information, among other information, are protected. 

The companies also published documents and technical guides on the encryption specifications to be used for the technique; the Bluetooth specifications used and the technical specifications of how the API will work. Apple also said that next week it will release an iOS update that makes all its devices compatible with the API for four years, indicating that an iPhone as old as iPhone 7 can be used to participate in the program.

Apple and Google
Apple and Google

 

Apple and Google describe the contact tracing technique in the FAQ document as “a technique used by health sector authorities to measure and slow down the spread of infectious diseases.” This technique requires infected people to notify people they have been in contact with and inform them of health measures such as quarantine and testing. 

The Apple and Google approach will work through Bluetooth communication between iOS phones (from Apple) and Android (from Google). The signatures explain that each user will have to activate the function to be part of the program. Once this is done, the device will send a beacon with an identification number that does not include user information. Each device will store the signals received from other phones. 

The devices will download, at least once a day, a list of signals that have been identified as corresponding to people with COVID-19. Each device will check to see if it received a signal from a device whose owner tested positive for the disease. If there is a relationship, the user will be notified of the steps to follow. 

In terms of user security and privacy, Apple and Google say that each user will have to explicitly activate this technology and, if they want to turn it off, they can do so at any time. The tracking system will not collect location information and will not identify users. Bluetooth signals change every 10 to 20 minutes, the report says, preventing possible follow-up. People who test positive for COVID-19 are not identifiable by either company. Also, Apple and Google may deactivate the tracking technique regionally when it is no longer necessary. 

The information, says the report, will always be stored on the device of each user who agreed to participate. Only in two scenarios will the health authorities have access to the information. The first case is when a user wishes to report a positive diagnosis for COVID-19; the second, when a user is notified of possible contact with a person infected. 

Apple and Google make it clear that neither company will monetize this project.

All questions and answers, as well as API white papers, Bluetooth specs, and information about the encryption standard, can be seen on  Apple’s information page and  Google’s announcement site

The alliance between Apple and Google, which together control 100 percent of the global market for mobile operating systems, is unprecedented. The companies hope that this alliance will help reduce the number of infections and deaths from COVID-19, a new disease that began to spread in China in December 2019 and has since added more than 2 million infected people.

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