Apple and Google’s contact-tracing effort reportedly launching earlier than expected


EU Commissioner Thierry Breton spoke with Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday.

Thierry Breton/Twitter

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Apple and Google’s joint effort to try to slow the spread of coronavirus may be launching sooner than previously thought.

The two companies announced last week that they’re collaborating on a platform that will allow contact-tracing apps to work on iOS and Android devices, with a scheduled launch date of sometime in May. But in a conversation with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly said the platform would open up to developers on April 28, according to French publication Les Echos.

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Developers working for public health authorities of different countries will be able to use Apple and Google’s API to build their own contact-tracing apps. These apps, which are being developed by multiple countries, will inform people if they’ve been in contact with people who have COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, using Bluetooth to track who they’ve crossed paths with. Nations including France, Germany and the UK are viewing such apps as an integral part of their plans for lifting lockdown restrictions.

In a tweet, Breton said that he’d enjoyed “a good exchange” with Cook, during which they discussed the standards contact-tracing apps should uphold.

Breton implied that he and Cook didn’t specifically discuss Apple’s clash with France over contact-tracing apps, saying that technical issues must be settled by individual EU states. 

The French government is putting pressure on the tech giant to relax its privacy standards to allow the app it’s been working on to constantly use Bluetooth in the background on iPhones. Apple will only allow it to do this if the app works on a decentralized model, where data isn’t routinely fed into a central depository. France’s app, which is due to be voted on by politicians on April 27 and launch on May 11, instead takes a centralized approach, which means it can only use the iPhone’s Bluetooth when the app is open and actively running on the phone.

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