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Google, Apple elicit praise and concern over massive coronavirus partnership

Apple and Google are teaming up in a "rare partnership" that could help inform people if they've come into contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19, Time reports.

The companies are calling their nifty new program Contact Tracing, and both have stressed that the service is voluntary and will require users to explicitly opt-in. Using Bluetooth on the phones of consenting users, Contact Tracing would automatically track mobile devices and take note of who you come into close proximity with while you're out and about. It would then allow users who test positive for coronavirus to alert the phones of anyone who'd come near enough to them during a 14-day period to potentially have contracted the disease.

If everyone who used an Apple or Google device were to opt in to the program, some 3 billion users, or one third of the world's population, would be able to know if they'd been near another Contact Tracing user who was contagious. Health experts say a large-scale global contact tracing project of this sort will be especially important as governments begin to ease coronavirus restrictions, because such technology can potentially prevent further outbreaks and lockdowns. Such measures, in fact, are already being taken in certain countries, including South Korea.

Others, though, are critical of such a massive project that involves tracking users' locations and sharing, albeit anonymously, their health information. "The sheer amount of information made available by tracing apps will be tantalizing for power-hungry governments and data-hungry corporations to monopolize," cautioned The Atlantic recently. "A tracing app made necessary by the pandemic cannot become an indefinite surveillance system run by some occult government agency."