Nhs HeroSource: Stephen Warwick/iMore

What you need to know

  • Apple and Google will ban the use of location tracking in contact tracing apps.
  • Contact tracing uses Bluetooth handshakes, not GPS location data to track who you've had contact with.
  • The pair also confirmed that only one app per country will be allowed to use its technology.

A report from Reuters has confirmed that Apple and Google will ban the use of location tracking in contact tracing apps designed to stop COVID-19.

According to the report:

Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google on Monday said they would ban the use of location tracking in apps that use a new contact tracing system the two are building to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Apple-Google decision to not allow GPS data collection with their contact tracing system will require public health authorities that want to access GPS location to rely on what Apple and Google have described as unstable, battery-draining workarounds.

Apple and Google's own technology relies on Bluetooth handshakes between devices than can track who you've been in contact with. All the data is anonymous and is only stored locally on your device. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, the app can send an alert to people you've been in contact with, again totally anonymously.

Whilst contact tracing as a concept has been met with some privacy and security concerns, in truth Bluetooth handshake tracking is far more private and secure than many other online and cellular services that people use on a daily basis. The report notes that some developers in U.S. states have told Reuters that "it was vital they be allowed to use GPS location data" to track outbreaks and identify hotspots. It seems from this report that Apple and Google are specifically referring to apps that use their own contact tracing technology, not to apps that have not adopted Apple and Google's APIs.

The pair further confirmed that it would support countries who "opt for a state or regional approach" to contact tracing and that U.S. states would also be allowed to use the system.