How Covid-19 Contact Tracing Works on Your Phone

OUR SMARTPHONES ARE set to play a significant role in helping navigate our way out of the coronavirus pandemic, with countries and companies around the world preparing their own apps as part of a track-and-trace system to keep infection levels low.

Google and Apple don’t work together on much, but they’re working together on this: a set of underlying protocols inside Android and iOS that are able to speak to each other, even while your phone is in your pocket.

The first fruits of these efforts are now live on Android phones and iPhones—here’s how to find these settings on your phone, and what they actually do.The Track-and-Trace Technology

What Apple and Google have developed isn’t an app in itself—rather it’s an application programming interface (an API), plus some other fundamental technologies, that other apps can plug into. When you load up a website with a Google Maps widget on it, that is using a Google Maps API, and the Covid-19 tracking tools work in the same way.

In other words, Apple and Google have done the groundwork, making sure that health apps can talk to each other across Android and iOS and get access to the features they need. It’s now up to countries (and states) to develop the apps that plug into these foundations and provide the actual front-end interface for users. (If indeed they decide to—some agencies are working on completely bespoke systems of their own.)

A crucial part of this underlying framework is access to Bluetooth signals. Bluetooth is perfect for low-energy wireless transmission that can run in the background of your phone, without draining the battery excessively. (It’s used for wireless headphones, car stereos, and the like.)

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