Story at a glance
- Google and Apple collaborated to make a contact tracing app in spring at the onset of the pandemic.
- Contact tracing has been slow to take off in the U.S.
Search engine and software company Google announced on Friday that 20 individual U.S. states and territories, composing approximately 45 percent of the country’s population, are in the process of “exploring” contact tracing apps to track how the coronavirus spreads.
Following their announcement in April, Google and Apple Inc. have collaborated on an app to be used by health officials during the pandemic.
The first of the U.S. apps will be released in the upcoming weeks, Reuters reports.
Contact tracing is an epidemiological strategy to trace a disease’s spread by looking at a patient who has tested positive and identifying who they came into contact with. The app would let users track encounters with other people through Bluetooth signals. Should a user become infected with the virus, the app would anonymously notify all users it had registered being in contact with prior to the patient’s diagnosis.
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While human contact tracers have actively been hired by health departments, the infrastructure has been difficult to implement.
In addition to states the U.S. looking to utilize the app, 16 countries and territories outside the U.S. will be launching contact tracing apps using Google and Apple’s technology, namely Austria, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Gibraltar, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Uruguay.
The release also noted that its system with Apple will permit apps launched by different countries to communicate with each other.
In May, Google said that just three states, including Alabama, North Dakota, and South Carolina, would be building contact tracing apps based off Google and Apple’s software. South Carolina reportedly paused the release of the app in June, and Alabama lawmakers have yet to decide whether or not to release their app. North Dakota, too, has yet to launch an app.
Outside of these states, Rhode Island was among the first to develop its own proprietary contact tracing app, titled “Crush COVID RI.”
Since the announcement and debut of some contact tracing apps, data privacy has been a prominent concern among lawmakers. While Apple and Google stated that user privacy and data security would be “central” to the app’s design, their effort will be scrutinized by Capitol Hill.
“Apple and Google have a lot of work to do to convince a rightfully skeptical public that they are fully serious about the privacy and security of their contact tracing efforts,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement in April when the collaboration was made public.
“A public health crisis cannot be a pretense to pave over our privacy laws or legitimize tech companies’ intrusive data collection about Americans’ personal lives.”
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