Report Details How Apple and Google Developed Contact Tracing API

Apple and Google developed their upcoming COVID-19 contact tracing tool in record time, according to a new report from CNBC that details how the two companies came together to create the API.

apple google contact tracing slide
It took Apple under a month to flesh out the project, and in the beginning stages, it was the work of a handful of employees who had started brainstorming a solution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 back in March.

The speed at which the tool was developed was "highly unusual" for Apple, according to CNBC, spearheaded by employees who wanted to create a decentralized contact tracing solution that used Bluetooth in the background, didn't draw much battery life, and was focused on privacy.

The initial team focused on an opt-in solution that would send anonymous alerts to other phones it had been nearby rather than uploading the information to a government or central authority to prevent databases with detailed location or proximity info from being built, which are all features of the finished product.

Time was of the essence given the quick spread of COVID-19, and it didn't take long for the project to pick up speed with engineers volunteering their time. Meanwhile, employees at Google were also working on something similar, and team members from both Apple and Google ultimately communicated with one another and found a solution for working together.

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. By the end of the month, Google had officially come on board, and about a week later, the companies' two CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai met virtually to give their final vote of approval to the project.

Apple is said to be aiming to launch its contact tracing tool, now called exposure notification, on May 1 in a software update. Apps that use Apple's exposure notification API will run on the iPhone 6s and later and will be able to communicate not only with iPhones, but also with Android devices, with the goal of informing users if they've been exposed to COVID-19.

CNBC's full report, which goes much more into depth on the development of the partnership and the work on the tracing technology, can be found on CNBC's website.

Top Rated Comments

Trik Avatar
19 months ago
Anonymized data with user consent is the right way to do this. If you have Tik Tok installed on your phone, but you think this is "too much" you really need to re-evaluate where your trust lies.
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rubik Avatar
19 months ago

and the data is aggregated and Google sells it to whoever. What will do Apple with the data? Pass to?
The data will never touch Apple‘s or Google‘s servers. It stays on your device. So there is nothing to sell. Only if you were infected and consented, your random beacon codes that were broadcasted via Bluetooth will be uploaded to a centralized place (which probably still won‘t be a Google or Apple server).
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Pistol Peto Avatar
19 months ago
The faster this gets into people's phones (+ higher testing availability) the faster this will be over. If goverments allow this (UK just said no) it will be one of the best applications of smart phones ever.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jonblatho Avatar
19 months ago

Anonymized is being used so heavily in every article.

I'll try again, anonymized would assume you can't discover the origin device. You literally have to for this to work. That means somewhere device id = anonymized id. You can change the anonymous id every five minutes but it still has to be in a table somewhere that said id at this time belongs to device id. That's the only way you are notified.

In advertising that's anonymized and what everyone keeps touting you don't need to store device id = advertising id anywhere. The data never has to make it back to the origin device because you just want the data.

Do you see the difference? Somewhere there is a record that has to keep track of the device. You are trusting this joint rushed operation has safeguards in place that someone won't be able to access that data. In the advertising world that data literally isn't there so its safe.
That’s a lot of words to say that you have no clue what you’re talking about because you haven’t read the specification.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cocky jeremy Avatar
19 months ago
Still a hard pass. I don't care if it was only Apple working on this.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AngerDanger Avatar
19 months ago
I just realized how great this illustration is:



Flop sweat drips from Bob's uneven hairline as he sits bored, balancing a notchless smartphone in his hand with the screen faced away and the classic "App" app open. Not even his pencil 'stache distracts from the oddity.

Attachment Image
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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