Photo: Apple and Google

Apple and Google on Friday announced a joint effort to notify people via smartphone — on an opt-in basis — if they've come into contact with someone with the coronavirus, without having to share users' location information with government authorities.

Why it matters: Contact tracing is seen as a key means for allowing society to reopen from shelter-in-place orders, but there have been significant privacy concerns about requiring people to share their location and other personal data with the government.

The big picture: Apple and Google have spent the last decade mostly driving wedges between their respective mobile operating systems but are launching this unprecedented collaboration as countries around the world eye technology solutions to track the spread of COVID-19. The companies aim to offer the maximum public health benefit without sacrificing individual privacy.

What's next: Apple and Google are implementing the necessary software in two phases.

  • In mid-May, the companies will update their operating system to support the contact-sharing technique and allow for contact-tracing apps.
  • In the coming months, a further operating system update will allow the system to work with out needing a specific app.

How it works:

  • Google and Apple are both making changes to their mobile operating systems to let devices exchange a private key with nearby smartphones via Bluetooth, logging any time users come in close proximity.
  • If someone tests positive for COVID-19 and enters that information into an app, 14 days worth of their contacts with other users are sent to a server.
  • Phones periodically check if any recently encountered user has reported being infected. If so, a notification pops up letting the user know that someone they have been in contact with has tested positive and more information is provided.
  • The new technology will work on iPhones running iOS 13 or later and on Android devices running any version of the operating system from 2015's Marshmallow on.

The companies say they have taken a number of steps to protect user privacy, including:

  • Allowing individual choice whether to use the technology.
  • Not collecting location or other personally identifiable information.
  • Not allowing the actual list of people a user has been in contact with to leave the phone unless desired.
  • Pledging the tool will only be used for contact tracing by public health authorities for COVID-19 pandemic management.
  • Not identifying people who test positive to other users, Google or Apple.
  • Retaining the ability to disable the broadcast system on a region-by-region basis when it is no longer needed.

The bottom line: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, echoing other public health officials from around the globe, told NPR Thursday that contact tracing is vital to curbing the spread of the coronavirus and preventing recurring localized outbreaks.

  • "It is going to be critical," he said. "We can't afford to have multiple community outbreaks that can spiral up into sustained community transmission — so it is going to be very aggressive, what I call 'block and tackle,' 'block and tackle.'"

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk — Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic" — COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations.
  2. Health: Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for 2nd straight day.
  3. World: Spain declares new state of emergency — Polish President Andrzej Duda tests positive for COVID-19.

Senate advances Amy Coney Barrett nomination, setting up final confirmation vote

Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

The Senate voted 51-48 on Sunday to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, setting up a final confirmation vote for Monday.

Why it matters: It's now virtually inevitable that the Senate will vote to confirm President Trump's third Supreme Court nominee before the election, which is just nine days away.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Wall Street is living up to its bad reputation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Recent headlines will have you convinced that Wall Street is hell-bent on living up to all of its stereotypes.

Driving the news: Goldman Sachs is the biggest and the boldest, paying more than $5 billion in fines in the wake of the 1MDB scandal, in which billions were stolen from the people of Malaysia.