Last week, Apple and Google announced a partnership with the goal of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but much remains to be said. This weekend the apple company introduced The Verge to a few more details, being aware of the limitations of Bluetooth and tracking applications.
On April 10, the two technological giants released a press release, showing a joint effort. The objective of the initiative is, through the use of Bluetooth technology, "to help governments and health agencies to reduce the spread of the virus", with the privacy and security of the user being essential elements, guarantee the companies.
However, there are limitations that need to be explained. According to the publication, tracking apps can take into account the duration of the user's proximity to other people when issuing alerts, in order to reduce false alarms. Thus, the applications only warn when the user is close to a person infected with COVID-19 for a substantial period of time, of about five minutes.
Other limitations of the technology are related to the users' own location. If the person is on the street, and close to someone infected with COVID-19, do not receive an alert. But if you are, for example, on a bus, you are more likely to receive an alert from an infected person.
The apple company provided even more details on how the tracking API will work. As initially announced, both companies will initially launch APIs that allow interoperability between Android and iOS devices through apps by public health authorities. Applications can be downloaded from the App Store and Google PlayStore.
Now it is known that, once the feature is integrated into the operating system, the user needs to activate the API before starting to send and receive Bluetooth signals. And if you don’t have a support medical assistance app at that time, you’ll still have access to the last 14 days nearby after installing the app.
Still, and as The Verge notes, these measures do not guarantee a perfect system. The strategy may not completely eliminate false alarms, at a time when it is not necessarily necessary to spend a lot of time with an infected person to also contract the virus. Still, the technology can be effective whenever the authorities are ready to start suspending blocking measures.
How has tracking been used to combat COVID-19?
In the past few weeks, several countries have used users' location data via smartphones to control COVID-19, also outside Europe. The United States of America, for example, is tracking citizens' cell phones to control how they move and spread the new Coronavirus during the pandemic. The EC itself announced at the end of March a project through which it would ask various European operators for geo-location data from users, ensuring that, to protect citizens' privacy, data will be aggregated and anonymous.
In Portugal, and through the Portuguese tech4COVID19 movement, the Covidografia platform was developed, which performs the symptomatic self-assessment of COVID-19 in the population. The technology constructs a photograph, anonymous and confidential, of the symptoms and evolution of COVID-19 in the Portuguese population, allowing an anonymous tracking of the contagion networks in the country.