Apr 29, 2020 - Technology

Apple, Google deliver test code for virus-exposure tracking

Ina Fried, author of Login

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple and Google said Wednesday that they have given an early version of their Bluetooth-based COVID-19 exposure notification technology to certain developers working with public health authorities.

Why it matters: Releasing test code now is key to offering the technology broadly by mid-May.

Details: The companies said they will release sample code and other information Friday to help developers better understand how the system will work, as well as more of the rules for writing apps that use the technology.

  • Last week, the companies announced modest tweaks to the system and also renamed it "exposure notification" to distinguish it from human-centered contact tracing efforts.

The big picture: One of the key questions will be how widely individuals agree to use the technology. Apple and Google have said that trust and privacy are key to the system, but their approach also means convincing enough people to use the technology for it to be useful.

Background: Under the Apple-Google technology, each participating user's phone will send out a random and frequently changing key to identify itself. If someone later reports they tested positive, their phone broadcasts out the keys it came in contact with, allowing those other users to be notified.

  • To protect privacy and limit the potential for abuse, no location data is used, individuals have to volunteer to participate, and only health authorities are permitted to access the technology.

Google and Apple plan to release the technology in two phases.

  • In the first phase, slated for mid-May, the two companies will build the technology into their Android and iOS operating systems, but using the system will require a user to download an app.
  • In the second step, the technology will be more deeply integrated into the operating system so people won't need an app download to participate.

Go deeper: Why contact tracing is a key next step in slowing coronavirus' spread

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Sen. Maria Cantwell. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senators are preparing today to introduce bipartisan legislation that would require commercial contact-tracing and exposure notification apps to only be deployed in collaboration with public health authorities.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are trying to put privacy safeguards in place as health officials look to use tech — including a Bluetooth-based system from Apple and Google — to help Americans learn if they've come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

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