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Apple and Google are working together on an app that traces COVID-19 – here’s how you’ll get it

This will have a potential reach of billions.

flagship smartphones from apple and samsung
Image: KnowTechie

The two main smartphone operating system makers, Apple and Google, are collaborating on a contact tracing app built in to both Android and iOS to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It lets people know if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for the disease, by tracking anonymized signals from their smartphones.

This will then have a potential reach of billions, feeding crucial data back to public health authorities so they can fight the virus. The initial updates to Android and iOS are planned for May.

How it works

Before you start worrying that the government will be tracking your every move, the system will be opt-in once installed.

  • An anonymized, random identifier is sent to nearby devices
  • Your anonymized data can be opted-in to send to those other devices as well
  • The system tries to match based on time spent and distance between those devices
  • If a match is found, the user will get a message saying they might have been exposed, without identifying the infected person

How you’ll get it

How you’ll get the tool depends on which operating system you’re running on your phone. Apple devices are fairly straightforward, as the company has control over both the hardware and the software. Expect an iOS system update to come in May with the new tool.

Android’s fragmented ecosystem makes things slightly more complicated, as system updates are usually handled by each manufacturer, or even by mobile service carriers. Google’s found a way to sidestep this convoluted process, using the Google Play Services app to push the new tracking code. Normally that’s only used to update Google’s own apps, like Gmail or Maps. Anyone using a phone running Android 6.0 or newer will get the update.

That gives a huge install base worldwide. Apple’s sold over 1.5 billion iPhones to date, making up 13 percent of the worldwide usage. Android commands 87 percent of the mobile phone market worldwide. Together that will cover a large swathe of the world’s population, hopefully giving health services a chance to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

What do you think? Are you ok with this type of tracking? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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