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Will Apple & Google’s COVID-19 partnership impact the enterprise?
by Paul Davenport Paul Davenport on

It goes without saying that there have been plenty of events over the past few weeks that many people never expected to witness, from entire cities (and countries) social distancing to help “flatten the curve” to unforeseen business partnerships sprouting up to help speed up aid.

One such “once in a blue moon” event took the tech space by surprise this week when Apple and Google announced they’d be partnering on a mobile platform that they hope will help in tracking – and mitigating – the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new platform takes a technological approach to what’s known as “contact tracing,” where data is culled to figure out everyone an infected individual has recently come into proximity with. This comes hot on the heels of a recent Oxford University study that showed that traditional contact tracing techniques were insufficient to keep tabs on an outbreak as aggressive as COVID-19, especially given how far-spread the outbreak has become.

The program is being developed for smartphones, since these can easily be used to track (for better or worse) the geolocation of users with relative accuracy (assuming the device is in a users pocket) to help alert users when they’ve been near an infected individual and may need to be tested for the disease.

But beyond the many questions lingering regarding data privacy – as well as how cooperative federal agencies will be in helping support the new system – how can enterprises expect the new platform to impact their networks and users?

For starters, the new contact tracing platform will leverage proximity capabilities built into Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions to track the physical contacts of participating phone users. There are a few things to unpack here.

First, BLE transmissions don’t leverage the same connectivity or bandwidth on your traditional enterprise network that is designed to support business-critical applications and employee workflows. Rather, these transmissions happen outside of your traditional enterprise network and represent the low-energy, beacon-sensor connectivity between short-range IoT devices. So from a network capacity perspective, the platform’s active, always-on performance shouldn’t have an impact on network performance out of the gate.

That said, once the system has been fully developed and deemed operational, users will need to “opt-in” and download a new app to their device in order for contact tracing to get started.

This is where enterprise IT should start paying close attention.

While the tracing system is still in development, individuals leveraging a work-provided smartphone may need to seek permissions from their IT team to deploy the new application once it’s live. While businesses will be happy to know that employees – infected or otherwise – are in the best position to seek medical help or prevent infection if they are exposed to the coronavirus, IT teams need to be vehement in vetting the potential security risks before rushing to deploy a new application (see the recent bout of Zoom headlines for reference).

For users who leverage their own smartphones for work, they may be able to eventually download the new app without permission from their IT team once the tracing system has gone live. Because users may be accessing sensitive data on this device (and because the app’s security hasn’t been proven yet), IT may want to restrict what sets of data certain individuals can access on their personal smartphones. From there, IT teams will require visibility into all network traffic to ensure unauthorized apps aren’t privy to network resources.

It’s still very early on in this partnership between the two of tech’s biggest behemoths, but it only goes on to show that anything can happen this day and age.

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Filed Under: industry insights

Tags: enterprise IT, enterprise network, network performance monitoring, network monitoring, application monitoring, application, apps, app, iOs, android, Apple, Google, smartphone

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