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App Tracking Coronavirus Infections

Returning from a walk, Paly senior Justin Song washes his hands, hoping to reduce the chance of catching COVID-19. Just like most, Song hopes to return back to his everyday life that was robbed away from him. A new effort unveiled by Apple and Google may accelerate that return. 

Apple and Google introduced a new effort to help smartphone users track whether they’ve been in contact with COVID-19. Introduced on April 9, The tech giants say they hope to utilize Bluetooth technology to help detect coronavirus cases, which could mark a major technological advancement in contact tracing, the Washington Post reports. 

In a joint statement, both companies affirmed their commitment to fighting COVID-19

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” the companies wrote. “Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return to everyday life.”

Public health officials say they hope to utilize the contact tracing technology to create apps for widespread use. Should someone learn they have contracted the COVID-19 virus, the app will give them the option to report their infection and will notify surrounding smartphone users of said infection. 

Both companies say the Bluetooth technology may be available as early as mid-May: however, the success of this effort relies on the number of people who use it, the availability of free testing and how quickly public health officials can roll out these apps. 

Already, people are raising concerns regarding the balance between public health and privacy. According to a joint poll between the Washington Post and the University of Maryland, three out of five Americans will be unwilling or unable to download these contact tracing apps. 

Paly senior Justin Song is concerned with the lack of privacy within this app. 

“I don’t feel comfortable with this information being made public,” said Song. “I wouldn’t use this app.” 

However, the two firms said they only plan to make the contact tracing technology available to public health authorities. 

Both companies say their primary concern is to protect the privacy of users and ensure governments are not able to abuse the technology to track their citizens. Reuters reports the technology would only use Bluetooth and does not store GPS location data. 

However, according to the same site, only five in six Americans own smartphones, and among the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, that statistic is much lower, around 53 percent. 

According to a survey conducted by the Washington Post, only 50% of smartphone owners say they would be willing to download the app. The survey also showed Republicans are more resistant to downloading the app when compared to Democrats, who are more willing.  

Paly senior Keonil Lee said he would be willing to download the app. 

“I think this app will be what we need to allow us to return to our everyday lives,” said Lee. 

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