The tech giants will allow state health agencies to use the software without creating a customized app
“I would say this is an improvement,” said Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Kahn, who has been studying the use of technology to fight the virus, said states have been hamstrung by indecision around which technology vendors they should use to build their apps, among other issues. He said this may help speed up adoption, but shouldn’t be considered a magic bullet. “It’s still not probably serving all the interests that public health would want, but it’s better than nothing,” he said.
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First launched in May, coronavirus tracking software got off to a rocky start. Some public health agencies in the United States and around the world had wanted to build mobile apps that would help them track the spread of the virus, a process known as “contact tracing.” But the contact-tracing apps that initially launched did not function properly because of limitations the two tech giants place on mobile apps distributed through their stores. Citing privacy concerns and potential battery drain, Apple and Google declined to give public health agencies special access for the purpose of contact tracing.
Instead, Apple and Google launched their own software that is built into the operating system. Public health agencies were asked to design their own apps that utilize the software. But the Apple and Google software provides little information to public health agencies.
Tuesday’s announcement, the companies said in a joint conference call, may help speed up adoption by allowing states to participate without creating customized apps.
Users who live in states that participate in the software may get a pop-up notification, prompting them to opt into the program. By following simple steps, they can share their Bluetooth data and receive notifications if they come in contact with another participant who has tested positive. Previously, users would have had to download a stand-alone app built by their state. Now, the process is more like changing the settings on the phone.