Google, Apple’s contact-tracing app not compatible to older phones

April 21, 2020
Apple and Google

UP to two billion smartphone users around the world won't be able to use the coronavirus contact tracing app currently being developed by Apple and Google.

This is due to hundreds of millions of older smartphones still in active use that do not have the required software and Bluetooth to run the new app. The contact-tracing app could be released next month.

The app will warn smartphone owners that they have come into contact with someone who has since been infected with the virus, advising them to self-isolate.

This data will then be provided to governments and public health authorities globally to help stop the spread of the illness.

But devices more than five years old lack the necessary wireless chips and software to run the app, meaning key data demographics could be lost.

The two billion active smartphones that will miss out are likely and this would include poorer and older people, who are also among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Google and Apple are opening up their mobile operating systems so both iPhone and Android devices can run the contact tracing app.

In this spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.

When two people come into contact, each person's phone will exchange Bluetooth signals via specific chips that are used to detect proximity between devices.

If a person using the app then tests positive for COVID-19, they can then upload their movements to a public database.

Other users will then be able to anonymously check their own logs against others to see if they've potentially been exposed to a carrier of the virus.

If there's a match, the person will receive a message indicating when and where they might have been exposed, along with guidance as to whether they should just watch for symptoms, seek testing or self-quarantine.

But the chips that begin the process are absent from a quarter of smartphones in active use globally today, according to Counterpoint Research, while 1.5 billion people in total use feature phones that don't run Android or iOS at all.

There is then the issue of people who don't use a mobile phone or even take one with them during their daily exercise allowance.

When announcing the app, the two tech giants insist that the data will be anonymous and that “privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance”.

Each phone will record the date, time, distance, and duration of contact between the two devices, but it won't use GPS data to ensure the logs remain anonymous.

The app will also periodically create new ID codes for each device to make it hard to for authorities to trace an interaction back to any specific individuals. (DailyMail)