California partners with Apple and Google for COVID-19 contact tracing on phones


California is adopting contact tracing tools by Apple and Google.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday said the state has partnered with Apple and Google on an app to let people use their phones to track potential exposure to COVID-19.

The digital system uses Bluetooth signals from people’s phones to alert them if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The project takes advantage of two of the world’s most popular operating systems — Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android — to potentially reach billions of people. 

To use the features, people can download the app, called CA Notify, starting Thursday. On iPhones, people can turn on the alerts in their phone settings. 

Newson’s announcement makes California the biggest state to adopt the features, first announced in April. The project is a rare public collaboration between the two tech rivals, but some critics have expressed privacy concerns over the potential for abuse and mass surveillance. The companies said they intend to shut down the tools after they are no longer needed to fight the pandemic. 

The move comes as several of the most populated counties in California have gone into lockdown as COVID-19 cases surge and health officials worry about capacity in hospitals. The state has 1.3 million cases and the virus has killed more than 19,800.

“California is facing one of its biggest challenges yet in its fight against COVID-19,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted on Monday. “CA Notify with the exposure notification technology we developed with @Apple will be a helpful tool as we work together to slow the spread.”

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