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Android phones will get the COVID-19 tracking updates via Google Play

by Tom Hanks
Android phones will get the COVID-19 tracking updates via Google Play

Google has confirmed that it will use the Google Play services infrastructure to update Android phones with the next COVID-19 contact tracking system it is building in collaboration with Apple. It should guarantee that more Android phones will actually receive the updates, as well as their availability on phones running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher.

Until today, this was an open question, but one that was vital to Google. Indeed, Google Play is the only reliable system that exists to send software updates to Android phones in a timely manner. The other way – full operating system updates – is often fraught with delays from operators and manufacturers.

Google says its update system will apply to both phases of the Bluetooth contact tracking framework – the initial API deployment, due to arrive next month, and the next step, which will see the APIs integrated into the system operating. Companies will only say that the second stage will happen “in the coming months”.

There is a huge set of Android devices that do not benefit from Google Play services: all Android phones in China, as well as all Huawei phones sold worldwide after restrictions were imposed by the United States. Google is not allowed to export software to Huawei, which means that it cannot apply this system to its phones, just as it cannot include Chrome or Gmail.

For these phones, Google intends to release a framework that these companies could use to replicate the anonymous and secure tracking system developed by Google and Apple. It will then be up to Huawei, Xiaomi and other Chinese manufacturers (or the Chinese government) to decide whether or not to use the system.

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This is the strategy Google uses for its Project Mainline update system, launched last year for newer versions of Android. However, Project Mainline updates are explicitly open source. Google declined to comment on whether this system would be, but noted that it will offer code audits to companies wishing to adopt a similar system.

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