Apple and Google take steps to ensure privacy as coronavirus tracking rolls out


In rolling out their coronavirus tracking system to developers, Apple and Google have confirmed that it will ban location tracking by other official apps.

But the decision, which prioritizes privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens, could complicate things for state governments looking to track coronavirus outbreaks. State governments have said that GPS data access in conjunction with the contact tracing system will better help them track the way outbreaks move and identify geographical hotspots.

The system, first announced on April 10, uses Bluetooth signals from phones to detect people who have come in contact with someone who’s tested positive for the coronavirus without storing the GPS location data. Without direct access to location information, health authorities will need to rely on lists of encrypted phone data provided by Apple and Google.

That could result in some missed encounters, critics claim, because iPhones and Android devices turn off Bluetooth connections after some time for battery-saving and other reasons unless users remember to re-activate them.

In rolling out their system to developers on Monday, Apple and Google also said they will allow only one app per country to use the contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption. The companies said they would, however, support countries that opt for a state or regional approach, and that US states will be allowed to use the system.

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