Apple and Google teamed on efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus), unveiling plans to build contact tracing technology with the potential to cover the vast majority of smartphones currently in use across the world.

In a joint statement, the companies explained they will develop technology enabling governments and public health agencies to develop apps to track the pandemic, “with user privacy and security central to the design”.

They plan to release APIs next month to enable apps developed by public health authorities to use Bluetooth to trace contact with people infected with the virus.

A platform will be built into the pair’s iOS and Android platforms in the coming months, which they said would enable broader user participation and interaction with a wider ecosystem of apps and public health agencies.

The companies emphasised privacy “transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort”, noting the platform work is a “more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in”.

Bluetooth is emerging as a key technology in global efforts to use mobile technology to tackle Covid-19, being seen as an effective means of enabling contact tracing without compromising privacy standards.

The technology was recently backed by Wojciech Wiewiorowski, head of the independent European Data Protection Supervisor body, who said Bluetooth was “a useful path to achieve privacy and personal data protection effectively”. It is also being considered as part of efforts by the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing organisation.