Apple-Google bid to develop contact-tracing tech may hit citizens rights: Trump

The contact-tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising users privacy

US President Donald Trump had signed a proclamation in this regard on June 22. Photo: PTI (file)

Fearing that the Google-Apple team-up to develop an easy contact-tracing technology to curb coronavirus spread may impact citizens various freedoms, US President Donald Trump on Friday (April 11) said his administration will have to closely examine it.

That (Google and Apple partnership on COVID-19 contact-tracing) could lead to freedoms problems and a lot of other things. “This is something were going to look at. Certainly, and we know they’ve done that,” Trump told reporters during his daily White House news conference on the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

To help public health officials slow the spread of COVID19, Google and Apple are working on a contact-tracing approach designed with strong controls and protections for users privacy, Google head Sundar Pichai said in a tweet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in another tweet, said the contact-tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising users privacy. “We’re working with Google to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency & consent,” he said.


Responding to a question on this, Trump said its “very new technology” but it may worry people. “It’s very interesting but a lot of people worry about it in terms of a persons freedom. We’re going to take a look at that, a very strong look at it. Well let you know pretty soon,” he said.

In a joint statement, Google and Apple said since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health organizations have identified contact-tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology, the two companies said.

“To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing,” they added. “Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protection around users privacy,” they said.

Firstly, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable inter-operability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.

Secondly, in 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 joint statement said.

“Privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze,” it said.