Three states commit to Apple-Google technology for virus tracking apps

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, at the DreamForce 2019 conference in San Francisco, California, the United States, on November 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina are the first states to publicly commit to using Apple and Google contact tracking technology in statewide applications intended to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

The technology is designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus by tracking who a person has been in close contact with. The technology uses a Bluetooth-based system that stores data on people’s phones, not a central database. When a person is officially tested positive for Covid-19, the system can send a notification to anyone recently close to that person, telling them to contact their local health authority and get medical advice and a coronavirus test.

Apple and Google will not do the actual contact search apps, government health agencies will. 22 countries and some US states have requested and obtained access to Apple-Google technology, the companies said. The technology is included in the iPhone and Android updates released on Wednesday. While several European countries said they would use the system, these are the first states in the US to sign up.

Apple and Google technologies will be used in the CARE19 app in North Dakota and the SC-Safer-Together app in South Carolina, according to statements released by the companies. The Alabama health official said the state “is exploiting technology to speed up exposure notification to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we can all be safe together” in a statement.

“North Dakota is delighted to be among the first states in the country to use exposure notification technology built by Apple and Google to keep our citizens safe,” said North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. , in a press release.

The Apple and Google approach was designed to protect user privacy and limit the use of personal information in tracking digital contacts.

Companies will not allow apps built with their technology to use GPS data, which can locate a user’s location, and will not allow governments to silently activate them, company officials have said. The companies also declare that they will limit government authorities to the collection of the minimum necessary data and that no one will be able to use the data for advertising or other purposes.

Without using the Apple and Google systems, apps will have a hard time using Bluetooth to trace contacts, as iOS and Android restrict the use of Bluetooth in the background. Applications that have not used the Apple-Google system, such as the Trace Together application from Singapore, have encountered problems with autonomy and use.

Adoption is the biggest challenge for these applications in the future. The more phones that join the system, the more it can successfully detect the spread of the virus. Apple and Google say convincing the public to trust apps and membership is essential to the effort.

But some states, such as Utah, have adopted a different approach to digital contact tracking in which users can share specific location data with tracers of human contacts – healthcare workers who usually call people who test positive or at high risk of contracting the virus. They argue that using more location data and a centralized approach will give public health services more tools than the anonymous Apple-Google system.

Some governments have changed their internal approaches to adopt the Apple-Google system. A first version of the North Dakota Care19 application used anonymized GPS location data and did not use Apple-Google Bluetooth technology, for example.

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