We are in unprecedented times in so many ways, and just to punctuate that point Google and Apple have announced a joint venture to enable cross playroom functionality. In a move that would previous have needed Dr Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters to describe, the two tech rivals have jointly announced a two step plan to help battle the ongoing virus crisis.
Step one will be to implement joint APIs in May for both of the companies’ mobile platforms to allow interoperability between Public Health Authority track and trace applications. While there are little details, what this means is that both Apple and Google will offer a unified approach for app developers to integrate a technological solution to assist with fighting the pandemic.
It’s unclear if access to these APIs will be restricted or if once developed they could be used by any app developer to develop other apps within the guidelines of the respective app stores. It’s great to see the desire to create walled gardens suspended for the COVID-19 response, even if it’s only temporary and limited.
Step Two will be the two will work to enable a broader Bluetooth based contract tracing platform by incorporating the building blocks into the underlying OS platforms. The pair say that this would a more robust platform than just the API alone, greatly improving the functionality of these services.
Privacy and security are obviously front of mind, Google and Apple are well aware of that and are commuting to building privacy into the fundamentals of these services. Elements like opt in, differential privacy and strong data retention and usage policies a will all need to be developed to ensure consumers trust the solution enough to allow it to work.
With Australia currently seeing some success from our social control measures this may feel like a PR stunt; however, as a clinician working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response let me assure you it is not.
Australia has proven very fortunate in our ability to stem the growth of COVID-19 (for now), but complacency will jeopardise our current reprieve. Internationally, people have not been so fortunate, so every tool that can be developed should be, as soon as practice.
COVID-19 is not going anywhere any time soon, even after we have dealt with the initial surge we will need systems and processes to monitor the spread of the disease until a sustainable treatment for the SARS-CoV2 virus is identified. So please, continue to follow the Governments isolation guileless, protect yourself, your loved ones and your community.