Apple and Google promise to discontinue COVID-19 tracking program when the pandemic is over and outline plan for stronger encryption of user data

  • Apple and Google promise a program tracking COVID-19 will be terminated after the pandemic is declared over
  • That process will reportedly be decided on a geographic basis 
  • Google and Apple will also include stronger encryption in the platform
  • The encryption will extend to metadata pulled from users’ Bluetooth  
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

For the first time, Apple and Google have publicly committed to discontinuing their coronavirus tracking program once the pandemic is officially declared over.

As noted by The Verge, both companies committed to winding a contact tracing program down in a call with media on Friday.

The decision to disable technology supporting contact tracing apps designed to monitor the spread of COVID-19 will be made on a geographic basis according to representatives from the companies.

Contact tracing technology will be made available to governments earlier than previously expected according to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook (stock)

Though it’s unclear exactly what threshold would be used by health authorities to determine that the virus is no longer posing a public danger, both Google and Apple reportedly made it clear that the application programming interfaces (APIs) provided to them would not be permanent. 

Additionally, the companies detailed a stronger encryption method that would assign random tracing keys on a daily basis as opposed to a key that is derived from a private identifier. 

That would make it harder for a potential hacker to trace the identifier back to a specific person.   

That encryption will also be extended to metadata associated with users’ Bluetooth transmissions – the method by which apps will identify whether someone has come in contact with an infected person. 

Notably, that strengthened encryption makes a step toward addressing some recommendations issued by privacy experts and public advocacy agencies like the ACLU.

Recently the ACLU issued a white paper urging governments and tech companies to ensure a greater level of privacy and also calling for restrictions on when and for how long data can be used.

Guidance from the ACLU and EU on contact tracing comes on the heels of an initiative by Google and Apple, who partnered up to provide governments and health authorities with support on developing their own contact tracing apps.

An NHS contact-tracing app would only completely stop the spread of coronavirus if 80 per cent of current smartphone owners use it, researchers have warned

Specifically, the companies are providing governments and health agencies access to their application programming interfaces (APIs) so that they can interface with Google and Apple’s data banks to build out their own contact tracing apps.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook revealed in a call with European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton that technology to support contact tracing apps would be made available on April 28, which is several weeks before the companies previously promised.  

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