How Apple and Google Joined Forces to Build COVID-19 Contact-Tracing App

Not too long ago, Apple and Google announced that they were partnering up to launch a contact tracing initiative to help stop the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.

A new report from CNBC has given a behind the scenes look at how a few employees took the idea and, within weeks, had brought together typically rival companies to work together on perhaps one of the most important joint endeavors they will ever participate in.

According to the report, the idea for a contact tracing solution from Apple came to the attention of Myoung Cha, an Apple executive who is in charge of the business side of the company’s health team. She went to work with a small group of location services and privacy experts.

“Cha and a small team at Apple were already exploring methods of using smartphones for contact tracing,” reads the report. “The early team included Ron Huang, who runs Apple’s location services group, and Dr. Guy ‘Bud’ Tribble, a veteran Apple software vice president who is referred to internally as the ‘privacy czar.’ Tribble, who is also a medical doctor, is known outside of Apple for speaking out in favor of federal privacy legislation, noting at a Senate hearing that in 2018 that privacy should be a human right.”

According to the report, the speed at which the idea was transformed into an under-development project was lightning. Within weeks, at least a dozen Apple employees were working on the project codenamed “Bubble.” The company’s software chief Craig Federighi and COO Jeff Williams were supporting the project.

The new team included employees from the healthcare division, location services team, and various software experts inside Apple. Eventually, two cryptography experts joined the team to improve the privacy aspect of the technology. More employees started pitching in their additional time.

At the same time, Google was working on its own contact-tracing technology codenamed “Apollo.” Google reportedly got on board and joined Apple’s hands by the end of March 2020 when Dave Burke, Vice President of Android at Google, got in touch with Apple about the project. In the end, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai met virtually to apply their seal of approval on the project.

The companies are expected to launch an API on May 1st that health agencies across the world can integrate into their contact tracing apps. At a later date, Apple and Google will build the contact tracing solution directly into iOS and Android. Both companies have promised that, once the pandemic is over, they will disable and remove the program from their respective operating systems.