Apple and Google have decided to develop hand-in-hand solutions for data tracing. After having made public part of the APIs (application programming interfaces) necessary for the development of contact tracking applications, the two companies go a little further by revealing examples of screens for such applications. The nuance is subtle: the two groups are not going to develop contact tracing applications themselves as part of the fight against the coronavirus, but they are making tools available to states so that they can do so.
Examples of screens
This Monday, Apple and Google presented examples of home screens for tracking applications. Every effort is made to ensure that users' consent is well understood before any use. Explanation screens are integrated, with details on the procedure for erasing his data, uninstalling the application ... In addition, if a person is tested positive for Covid-19, he can only report it in the application by means of a code, which will have been communicated by a health authority. This process responds "to a request from several governments, anxious to avoid false reports". This is to prevent false reports of coronavirus cases from being made by unscrupulous individuals, seeking to destabilize a government or a region. Finally, the tracking applications will be deactivated, region by region, and the data erased, when the pandemic is over.
With these APIs, Apple and Google explain that they want to contribute to the edifice of the fight against the current epidemic, by making their technologies available. The two companies parallel contact tracing via an application using Bluetooth and manual contact tracing, with dedicated brigades. For them, the digital solution is a way to save time and efficiency, because it is not always easy to remember all the places we went over a period of two weeks, and even less of all the people we have met, especially when we are no longer confined! "Tracing applications are only a tool in an arsenal of measures," they recall. They advocate for their solution, which guarantees the interoperability of tracking applications between iOS smartphones (Apple iPhones) and Android smartphones (all other brands). All of which promises strict respect for privacy. Everyone's information would not be accessible to states, health authorities, Apple or Google, or third parties. The only data that is exchanged by bluetooth are encrypted identifiers which change every fifteen minutes. The encryption keys are stored in servers.
One tool among others
Apple and Google say they will only allow one tracking application per country. To be relevant, such applications must be massively installed and used, it is therefore important to avoid a fragmentation of uses on the same territory. France has chosen a different method than that recommended by Apple and Google for its StopCovid project. The difference is in how the data that is stored on centralized servers is exchanged. The American solution provides that the server sends encrypted identifiers corresponding to people positive for oronavirus to the smartphones of the users of the application. The user of the smartphone is thus alerted that one of his contacts - who may be a person encountered for a few minutes in a store - is sick. The French State puts on a system in which the smartphone sends the list of its contacts to the server, which compares them with the list of sick people and alerts the user in case of contact.