The “contact tracing” API that Apple and Google are working on and that I wrote about earlier this month is set to be released on May 1. Given all the concerns around privacy, it’s now being referred to as “exposure tracing.” The idea, here, is to emphasize that it is being designed to trace the coronavirus and not individuals.
To be clear, we’re talking about APIs, and so third party apps will need to be built on top of this tech before we can start downloading anything to our phones. But I am sure that will happen very soon and I will gladly opt in.
It’s also worth mentioning that this entire concept of smartphone exposure tracing only works when Apple and Google cooperate. Whatever apps ultimately get built need to work across both platforms, otherwise there would be far too many gaps in the network. So this — along with the focus on privacy — has become a bit of good PR for “big tech.”
The smart people working on exposure tracing over at Oxford University seem to think that (alongside other interventions) we could stop this virus with only about 60% of the population using an exposure tracing app. (They ran models with a pretend city of 1 million people.) But even at 50% penetration, they believe it could make a meaningful contribution.
These are numbers I think we could easily get to in major cities. Overall, I suspect it could also make people feel a lot more comfortable about going out. And going out is what’s going to be required as we gradually reopen the global economy. How many of you think you will opt in to something like this once it becomes available?