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Apple, Google in rare joint venture to fight COVID-19

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Rival tech giants Google and Apple have announced a rare joint effort to enable the use of technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), with user privacy and security central to the design.

In a joint statement, the companies say across the world, governments and health authorities are working together to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect people and get society back up and running.

They add that software developers are contributing by crafting technical tools to help combat the virus and save lives.

Yesterday, the South African government announced that the country has 2 028 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 25 deaths.

“The total number of COVID-19 tests conducted to date is 75 053,” minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize said in a statement on Saturday.

Globally, there were over 1.7 million COVID-19 cases at the time of publishing, with 108 854 deaths.

Apple and Google say since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread.

They note that a number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology.

“To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing,” the companies say.

“Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.”

First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.

Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.

The companies say this is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.

“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyse,” they note.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems. Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.”

As part of this partnership, Google and Apple are releasing draft technical documentation including Bluetooth and cryptography specifications and framework documentation.

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