Apple and Google will work together to create contact tracing technology that aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus by allowing users to opt into a system that catalogs other phones they have been near.
The two Silicon Valley companies make the world’s dominant smartphone operating systems for iPhones and Android devices.
They will work together on technology that will allow mobile devices to trade information via Bluetooth connections to alert people when they have been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the sometimes deadly respiratory disease associated with the novel coronavirus.
The technology will first be available in mid-May as software tools available to contact tracing apps endorsed by public health authorities.
However, Apple and Google also plan to build the tracking technology directly into their underlying operating systems in the coming months so that users do not have to download any apps to begin logging nearby phones.
The companies said the technology will not track the location or identity of users, but instead will only capture data about when users’ phones have been near each other, with data being decrypted on the user’s phone rather than the companies’ servers. GPS location data is not part of the effort, the companies said.
Governments worldwide have been scrambling to develop or evaluate software meant to improve the normally labor-intensive process of contact tracing, in which health officials go to recent contacts of an infected person and ask them to self-quarantine or get tested.
Several health technology experts have said the involvement of Apple and Google would be a massive boost to their efforts, as contact tracing apps from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others struggled to make their apps work across competing operating systems.