Among the many tools used in the fight against the global pandemic, officials utilize a practice known as contact tracing to help identify hotspots of potential spread. Essentially, it involves reviewing the history of an individual that tests positive for covid-19. By going over their movements and interactions, officials trace other potential infections. Then, through isolation, they prevent those infections from multiplying.
In an effort to bolster the use of contact tracing, tech giants Google and Apple teamed up to create a system using phone data to more effectively trace a person’s whereabouts. The project, known as Bubble, uses Bluetooth technology to alert individuals when they come in close proximity to a known positive covid-19 case.
The first phase launches in May with an app available to download. Those that opt in get updates about cases they may have come into contact with. When a person tests positive for covid-19, they input that into the app. Subsequently, the app uses location data from the preceding 14 days to alert anyone that person crossed paths with.
The information gathered by the app remains private, and location data stores for only 14 days. This encourages those afraid of privacy breaches to enroll in the program. The more people that sign on, the more effective a tool it presents.
According to a model produced by Oxford University scientists, an app like Bubble could end the pandemic. “Our models show we can stop the epidemic if approximately 60% of the population use the app,” wrote Christophe Fraser, a professor of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.
After the initial phase, Apple and Google plan to incorporate the software into cell phone updates. However, users would still opt in to have their location data used for contact tracing purposes. Phase two doesn’t have a release date, but the companies said it will arrive in the coming months.