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Apple & Google impose ban on use of GPS location tracking in COVID-19 contact tracing apps

Both Apple and Google have pledged to develop a technology that will alert users if they land up in close vicinity of anyone who might have been diagnosed as Covid 19 positive. Both the companies have said the above technology is aimed to help users of their respective mobile platforms to remain alert and safe and won’t do anything that will impinge on the privacy of the individual users.

Another common goal that the two companies agreed to with their latest tech initiative include preventing governments anywhere in the world to use the system to gather citizen data. However, while the above decision can be considered laudable, developers of apps related to Covid 19 pandemic has said it is vital they continue to have access to GPS location info. This, they claim, will allow them to track how the outbreak is panning out and whether any area is turning out to be a potential hotspot.

In any case, the Covid 19 tracking system mooted by Apple and Google relies on Bluetooth Low Energy signals to find out potential coronavirus infected persons. The companies have also stated they would be using encrypted keys to ensure complete privacy for non-exposed users. Also, there is no provision to use GPS location info or store the same to achieve the above objective.

The joint Google and Apple effort also envisages the system being developed will be used by only the health care workers who stand the highest risk of contracting the virus. Further, the companies also stated the system would be made dysfunctional once the public health crisis is averted.

Meanwhile, the Apple-Google initiative seems to have a flaw in that those are almost entirely dependent on Bluetooth connectivity to identify those who have been tested Covid 19 positive. However, it is a known fact Android and iOS owners turn off their Bluetooth feature to save battery power.

That is also the reason some app developers have said they plan to rely on both GPS and Bluetooth. This, they claim will be more effective in identifying active Covid 19 cases better than the Apple-Google system that relies only on Bluetooth.

Case in point, the Utah’s Healthy Together contact tracing app developed by the software firm Twenty and which relies on both GPS and Bluetooth. They also said their app is more effective than that from Apple and Google but are open to adopt the latter’s tools if those prove to be better.