Apple and Google on Wednesday released long-awaited smartphone technology to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted that they want to help empower health agencies "with another tool to help combat the virus while protecting user privacy."
The #COVID19 Exposure Notification technology we built jointly with @Apple is now available to public health agencies in support of their contact tracing efforts. Our goal is to empower them with another tool to help combat the virus while protecting user privacy.
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) May 20, 2020
The companies said 22 countries and a number of U.S. states are already planning to build voluntary phone apps using their software.
It relies on Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for the virus.
In a joint statement , the companies said that users of the apps can opt in or out.
"The system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app," the companies said in the joint statement.
The new app-building interface comes as many governments have already tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to roll out their own phone apps to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.