See how Apple and Google came together to trace the coronavirus

Apple Google Partner On Covid 19 Contact Tracing Technology
Apple Google Partner On Covid 19 Contact Tracing Technology (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • A new report from CNBC details how Apple and Google worked together on contact tracing.
  • The report shows how both companies started their own projects initially.
  • It then goes on to show how the rivals came together.

A new report from CNBC has given a behind the scenes look at how a few employees took the idea and, within weeks, had brought together typically rival companies to work together on perhaps one of the most important joint endeavors they will ever participate in.

According to the report, the idea for a contact tracing solution from Apple came to the attention of Myoung Cha, an Apple executive who is in charge of the business side of the company's health team. She went to work with a small group of location services and privacy experts.

"Cha and a small team at Apple were already exploring methods of using smartphones for contact tracing. The early team included Ron Huang, who runs Apple's location services group, and Dr. Guy "Bud" Tribble, a veteran Apple software vice president who is referred to internally as the "privacy czar." Tribble, who is also a medical doctor, is known outside of Apple for speaking out in favor of federal privacy legislation, noting at a Senate hearing that in 2018 that privacy should be a human right."

The project, codenamed "Bubble", had been given the green light internally by two key executives: Craig Federighi and Jeff Williams. Once approved, dozens of employees began working on the project.

"Within a few weeks, the Apple project -- code-named "Bubble" -- had dozens of employees working on it with executive-level support from two sponsors: Craig Federighi, a senior vice president of software engineering, and Jeff Williams, the company's chief operating officer and de-facto head of healthcare."

At the same time, a group of employees at Google were working on the same idea. The project, called "Apollo", included experts on privacy and Bluetooth connectivity.

"The key employees taking the lead on the Google side included Yul Kwon, a senior director for the company and a former deputy chief privacy officer at Facebook (incidentally, Kwon is well known outside of Google as the winner of the 2006 show "Survivor: Cook Islands.") Senior product manager Ronald Ho, who works on Bluetooth and connectivity efforts, was also heavily involved from the outset. Google had its own codename for the project, separate from Apple's: 'Apollo.'"

The partnership between Apple and Google was built between Apple's Cha and Google's Vice President of Android, Dake Burke. Once everything was in place, Tim Cook and Sundar Pachai met virtually to give the final approval and officially launch the project to the public.

"The two companies couldn't formally announce plans to work together until they got a green-light from their CEOs. So Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai hashed it out on a virtual meeting several days ahead of the official announcement on April 10th."

The companies are expected to launch an API on May 1st that health agencies across the world can integrate into their contact tracing apps. At a later date, Apple and Google will build the contact tracing solution directly into iOS and Android. Both companies have promised that, once the pandemic is over, they will disable and remove the program from their respective operating systems.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.

  • The generation who shares the most also seems to be the most sensitive to privacy (go figure?), yet will give it all up in a second the first moment they hit a crisis. Weak!
  • Very well said! Let the weak sheep follow each other off the politician and MSM produced COVID-19 cliff. They have fail America.
  • There's nothing bad about Apple's/Google's implementation, it's decentralized and you can opt-out. If countries choose to do it "their way" and use a centralized data storage of their own, then that's when it's worrying.
  • Exactly !! Take the tin-foil hat off weirdos.