On March 28th, we released an article about how tech companies have discussed collaborating with governments to use smartphones to track the spread of coronavirus. In early April, Apple and Google announced that they would be working on a similar project. This week, the two major tech companies released their new “exposure notification” software.

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Countries around the world have been using mobile phone applications to assist in tracking and preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Some countries have already experienced a pandemic before, so their citizens are already familiar with the apps. This advantage means more people trust and will use those apps, making them more productive than those in countries like the U.S. Nevertheless, Apple and Google have worked together to create a software to help public health authorities, local and national governments create and improve their pandemic-related applications.

What is it?

These two major tech companies released software this week that allow public health companies notify users when they may have come in contact with someone with the virus, according to the Washington Post. This functionality will only be available for devices with the latest software update that should be rolled out this week as well. Once the apps are developed by a local or national government, people can download the app and allow their Bluetooth signal to be shared. The app will then log data when that signal connects with other users nearby who have the same software downloaded. If a user’s signal interacts with one of someone diagnosed with COVID-19, the user would receive a notification of that possible exposure.

Who Will Use it?

As of right now, Apple and Google have not been very specific with which organizations will be utilizing this software. According to the article in the Post, they revealed that “some U.S. states along with 22 countries would be using the software”. Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, has already endorsed the two companies and their product. Will the apps deployed by these government agencies actually be downloaded and used? That is a whole separate issue. People from the U.S are naturally suspicious and critical when it comes to their privacy. This software is not exactly the location tracking as we had proposed in our earlier article, but the details remain unclear.

Will it Help?

Again, this whole idea revolves around mobile phone owners actually using the applications. Furthermore, iPhones older than the 6s version are not compatible with the software. Though, if enough people download the app, it could be an effective way of convincing people to get tested or isolate themselves if they get a notification that they came in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Some public health officials have claimed this software will not benefit them at all. Instead, they believe physical interviews with COVID-19 patients results in more accurate data.

Read more about this topic in the Washington Post.

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