Apple, Google release coronavirus contact tracing API

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How contact tracing is being influenced by technology.

After nearly a month, Apple and Google have finally released their jointly developed automated contact tracing API. The tool will help government agencies roll out apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 without as much need for manual intervention.

It is a monumental effort between the two Big Tech companies and should be a welcome tool for many countries and state governments. Thus far, 22 countries and several U.S. states have received access to the API.

Quick Release

Although time seems to be moving in slow motion lately, it has been just over a month since Apple and Google first announced that they were teaming up on the contact tracing tool. Such rapid development is impressive considering that the API is essentially built from scratch.

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It works using Bluetooth transmissions, which are sent and received by smartphones that have a contact tracing app installed. The app then anonymously stores a record of every other phone that a user comes in contact with. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, their anonymous number is flagged and users who encountered that person get a notification that they may have been exposed to the virus.

Now that Apple and Google have launched the tracking tools, responsibility falls on the shoulders of government agencies. They will be tasked with developing apps with the API built-in that can be used in sync with their respective health departments.

In the United States, North Dakota, Alabama, and South Carolina are at the forefront of this new phase. In a statement, North Dakota governor Doug Burgum said, “As we respond to this unprecedented public health emergency, we invite other states to join us in leveraging smartphone technologies to strengthen existing contact tracing efforts, which are critical to getting communities and economies back up and running.”

America’s supply of testing kits isn’t yet up to par. As such, contact tracing is the next best tool to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19 as economies start to reopen.

Challenges Await

While Google and Apple’s contact tracing tool promises to be extremely helpful, it doesn’t come without challenges. The most notable one is getting people to actually download an app.

The Big Tech duo said in a statement, “User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps. Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts.”

North Dakota tried to create a similar app on its own prior to the new API. Sadly, only 4.4 percent of the state’s population downloaded it. Those numbers will need to increase drastically if automated contact tracing tools are going to help. A study from Oxford University found that approximately half of the population needs to utilize them in order for the apps to be effective.

Government agencies plan to advertise their new apps once they are released to try and encourage citizens to download them. That process could take several months depending on how long it takes to develop them.

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