Business man using a cellphone (focus on cellphone)

By: Nick Gambino

Contact tracing has entered our everyday lexicon owing to a global pandemic striking in the age of technology. While there’s some controversy surrounding the collection of data to help see who may have made contact with someone with the novel coronavirus, it’s still a means by which we can try and stave off the spread.

The key in making contact tracing acceptable to the general public is to ensure any info that is shared between devices is completely anonymous. This, of course, is the main complaint from critics of the new system.

Now it looks like Google plans to add exposure or contact tracing capabilities to smartwatches running on Wear OS. This info comes to us from XDA Developers who saw some strings of code in the newest Play Services beta.

The strings suggest users will be able to connect their wearable or smartwatch with their phone and use them to enable contact tracing.

“Your phone will use this device to securely collect and share random IDs with other devices that are nearby,” one of the spotted strings reads. “You can be notified if you’ve been near someone who reported having COVID-19. The date, duration, and signal strength associated with an exposure will be shared with the app.”

Wearable Exposure Notification Systems or ENSs have been in the works for a few months now when Bluetooth member companies formed the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) Exposure Notification Working Group. Shortly thereafter they released the Bluetooth specifications necessary to enable contact or exposure tracing on wearables without the wearable itself being connected to the internet.

We don’t have any confirmation from Google but these strings in Google Play Services v20.50.14 suggest they are preparing for imminent release. We should hear something soon.

Contact tracing is a necessary step (some might say “evil”) in getting this pandemic under control. Of course, we should stay ever vigilant and ensure our data isn’t being used without our consent, but we also have a responsibility to our fellow humans to give up certain “luxuries” to keep us all safe. Compromise is key in making this a livable planet.