New non-profit from Google Maps co-creator offers temporary ‘safe’ passes to aid COVID-19 reopening effort

There are a number of different technologies both proposed and in development to help smooth the reopening of parts of the economy even as the threat of the global COVID-19 pandemic continues. One such tech solution launching today comes from Brian McClendon, co-founder of Keyhole, the company that Google purchased in 2004 that would form the basis of Google Earth and Google Maps. McClendon’s new CVKey Project is a registered non-profit that is launching with an app for symptom self-assessment that generates a temporary QR code which will work with participating community facilities as a kind of health ‘pass’ on an opt-in basis.

Ultimately, CVKey Project hopes to launch an entire suite of apps dedicated to making it easier to reopen public spaces safely, including apps for things like exposure notification, which is what Apple and Google have partnered to deliver a framework for that works across both of their mobile operating systems. CVKey is also going to be providing information about what types of facilities are open under current government guidelines, as well as what those places are doing in terms of their own policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.

The core element of CVKey Project’s approach, however, is use of a QR code generated by its app that essentially acts as a verification that you’re ‘safe’ to enter one of these shared spaces. The system is designed with user privacy in mind, according to McClendon – any identify or health data exists only on a user’s individual device, and they’re never uploaded to a cloud server or shared without a user’s consent and information provided about what that sharing entails. All users only voluntarily offer their own health info, and the app never asks for location information. Most of what it does can be done without an internet connection at all, in fact, McClendon explains.

When you generate a QR code for use at places that have opted in to participate in the system, they scan it and receive a simple binary indicator of whether or not you’re cleared to pass, based on the policies they’ve set. They don’t see any specifics about your health information – the code transmits all the particulars of whether you have shown symptoms, which ones and how recently, for instance, and then that is matched against the policy set for the particular public space and they provide a go/no-go response.

McClendon created CVKey Project together with Manik Gupt and Waleed Kadous, who he worked with previously at Google Earth, Google Maps and Uber, as well as Dr. Marci Nielsen, a public health specialist with a long history of leadership at both public and private institutions.

The apps created by CVKey Project will be available soon, and the non-profit is looking for potential partners to participate in its program. Like just about everything else designed to address the COVID-19 crisis, it’s not a simple fix, but it could form part of a larger strategy that provides a path forward for dealing with the pandemic.