Apple and Google are working together on the cross-platform Exposure Notification API for COVID-19 contact tracing. In a new interview with Wired, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai discussed the origins of the partnership with Apple, and what it could mean for their relationship going forward.
According to Pichai, teams at both Apple and Google had started independently working on technology for contact tracing. The engineering teams quickly realized that it made sense for the companies to team up, at which point Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook started talking directly. Pichai explained:
“Both teams independently had started working on technology to support health agencies in their contact tracing work. Very quickly both sides realized that for this to work well it has to be available everywhere. So engineering teams across Android and iOS organically started reaching out. At some point, Tim and I decided to exchange notes and talk directly.”
Pichai added that he generally meets “periodically” with Tim Cook because the two companies are existing partners “in many areas.” As for the new partnership on COVID-19 exposure notifications, the decision was easy. “In this case, we felt the sum was greater than the parts,” Pichai explained.
Interestingly, Pichai believes that all it will take for the Exposure Notification API to be successful is for 10 to 20% of users to opt-in:
Opt-in is an important principle. We also realized we have to give users real privacy guarantees. I think we have struck the right balance. Even if only 10 to 20 percent of users opt in, this will have a real, meaningful impact. The more, the better.
Going forward, Pichai says that he is committed to finding other opportunities for Apple and Google to work together:
“Large companies working together in service of society is really good for the world. I am committed to finding other opportunities, and I had the same sense from Tim on this.”
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