In one of the most far-ranging attempts to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Apple and Google said they were building software into smartphones that would tell people if they were recently in contact with someone who was infected with it.
The technology giants said they were teaming up to release the tool within several months, building it into the operating systems of the billions of iPhones and Android devices around the world. That would enable the smartphones to constantly log other devices they come near, enabling what is known as “contact tracing” of the disease.
People would opt in to use the tool and voluntarily report if they became infected. The app would then alert phones that had recently come into proximity with that person’s device.
Google and Apple said the tool would protect the privacy of smartphone users and that people would have to opt in to use it. Yet two of the world’s largest tech companies harnessing virtually all of the smartphones on the planet to trace people’s connections raises questions about the reach these behemoths have into individuals’ lives and society.
“It could be a useful tool but it raises privacy issues,” said Dr. Mike Reid, an assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases who is helping San Francisco officials with contact tracing. “It’s not going to be the sole solution, but as part of a robust sophisticated response, it has a role to play.”