Apple and Google are partnering to build a Bluetooth-enabled technology that could allow widespread contact tracing as a way to contain the novel coronavirus and help countries find a path back to normalcy.
The joint effort announced on Friday is meant to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19 -- which as of Friday afternoon has infected more than 1.6 million people worldwide and killed 101,526 -- while respecting user privacy and security.
The tech giants are launching their effort in two steps. First, in May, they're releasing APIs, or application programming interfaces, that allow for interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities.
The Silicon Valley companies are working together to build a tracing program that could be widely implemented. (Apple/Google)
Their announcement states that in the coming months, "Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities."
The companies went on to state that "privacy, transparency and consent" are of major importance in this new endeavor and, as such, they'll be publishing information about their work for outside stakeholders to examine.
"Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life," they said.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which recently released a white paper on the concept of contact tracing as it relates to privacy concerns, released a statement about the Apple-Google partnership.
"No contact tracing app can be fully effective until there is widespread, free and quick testing and equitable access to health care. These systems also can’t be effective if people don’t trust them. People will only trust these systems if they protect privacy, remain voluntary and store data on an individual's device, not a centralized repository. At the same time, we must be realistic that such contact tracing methods are likely to exclude many vulnerable members of society who lack access to technology and are already being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic," Jennifer Granick, ACLU surveillance and cybersecurity counsel, told Fox News in a statement provided via email.