What Is Contact Tracing?
Due to the long incubation period of the novel coronavirus, many medical officials agree that one of the key tools in the fight against COVID-19 is to be able to trace everybody that an infected person may have come into contact with — even before they knew they were infected. Since it can take up to 14 days before somebody begins showing symptoms of COVID-19, that could potentially be a lot of people, even in these days of social distancing.
Obviously it can be very hard to remember everybody you’ve come into contact with over the course of two weeks, and as a result many organizations have been looking to technology to help track these interconnections. In fact, Singapore developed an app last month called TraceTogether that did exactly that, by using Bluetooth signals between participating mobile devices — those that have the app installed — to create a list of who they’ve come into close contact with.
As great of an idea as TraceTogether is, however, it suffers from the fact that the vast majority of people won’t ever both to install the app, so the information it provides wouldn’t be comprehensive by any means.
By contrast, the strategy that Apple and Google are adopted is to make it a standard feature of every single iOS and Android device, so that every iPhone and Android smartphone will be able to keep track of every other iPhone or Android smartphone that it’s come within a few feet of.
According to the announcement, this data will be collected and stored in such a way that it will only be accessible to official apps from public health authorities, which will provide a way for users to report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, which can then in turn alert other people that may have come into contact with that infected person.