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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

Go deeper

Updated Oct 16, 2020 - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. surpassed 8 million coronavirus cases on Friday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: Coronavirus infections jumped by almost 17% over the past week as the number of new cases across the country increased in 38 states and Washington, D.C., according to a seven-day average tracked by Axios.

Updated Aug 4, 2020 - Health

The states where face coverings are mandatory

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide mask mandate on Tuesday for people in public, as well as teachers and students going back to school.

The big picture: 34 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, have issued some form of a mask mandate as infections surge across the country.

Updated Aug 6, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Ethical tech in crisis

On Thursday August 6, Axios Cities author Kim Hart hosted a conversation on how technology companies are responding to the pandemic, featuring former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

DJ Patil unpacked how tech companies are building ethical and responsible tech centered on privacy and transparency during a time of crisis.

  • On the issue of misinformation during a pandemic: "It's no small statement to say [misinformation] is life or death. And so platforms have responsibility right now to figure out what is the right level of action at a bare minimum. It's creating stricter standards for how and what is allowed on their platforms."
  • On his concerns with the lasting consequences of quickly developing COVID-19 response technology: "It's easy to say this technology can be beneficial. But I have very serious reservations about it being deployed. What happens once it's deployed? Do we keep that in place after a pandemic? Those are the questions that we should be prepared to answer right now."

Kenneth Roth discussed different contact tracing models, highlighting the Bluetooth-based contact tracing system designed by Apple and Google.

  • On apps that use Bluetooth technology rather than location data for contract tracing: "Not relying on location data is a huge step forward in terms of privacy...[The app] did not identify infector, [it] simply told somebody that you were near somebody who was infected. They didn't put the data in a central database that the government might use for other reasons."
  • On the responsibility of Big Tech when it comes to moderating what contract tracing apps are allowing in their stores: "When you have problematic uses of technology of this sort, Google and Apple shouldn't participate. They should say we're not going to let you put apps like this on our stores if you're going to be using it this highly abusive way."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with
Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer at Salesforce Paula Goldman who discussed Salesforce's work on ethical tech development.

  • On having clear priorities in developing ethical technology: "Even though there's no definition of responsible tech for a pandemic, we need to think about things like privacy. We need to think about how vulnerable groups [are] being affected."

Thank you Salesforce for sponsoring this event.