U.S government enlists tech companies to help track the spread of COVID-19

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According to a recent article by CNN, Apple, and Google have partnered with authorities to help track exposure to COVID-19 with help from Bluetooth technology. The tech giants announced Friday that they had been working on a platform to enable contact tracing. This would allow officials to identify people who have been exposed to the virus and who they have come in contact with. 

The first interface will be built on existing public health apps and will be released in May. It will be compatible with both iOS and Android devices. In the coming months, a more comprehensive platform will be launched, which users will be able to opt-in. Users who test positive for COVID-19 can input their results into an app from a public health authority, which will be fed into an anonymous “identifier beacon.” The information will then be shared anonymously with anyone who the user potentially came in contact with, who also have the service enabled.  Users are then prompted to upload their identifier records to the cloud, where they will be notified if they were exposed to anyone who tested positive. 

Authorities across the globe have credited contact tracing as one of the critical solutions to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19.  This has led governments across the world, including Israel, Thailand, and Hong Kong, to utilize technology as a means of tracking exposure and enforcing quarantines. This U.S government has hopped on the bandwagon, turning to Silicon Valley for solutions. This comes after the government announced last month they were considering the use of cellphone location data to help track the spread of COVID-19. In fact, some companies used location tracking technology to track spring breakers who ignored social distancing warnings in Florida. North Dakota went as far as to launch its own platform, created by developers of the Bison tracking app, in hopes of improving the state’s contact tracing efforts. 

Privacy advocates have criticized the use of contact tracing technology out of fear it could be used as a surveillance tool once the pandemic ends. Tech experts have also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of Bluetooth enabled contact tracing. Apple and Google have ensured customers that privacy will be the central focus of their contact tracing efforts. Users will be required to provide explicit consent for the platform to work, and no information that could potentially identify users will be collected. 

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