Apple and Google contact-tracing software released

Ruben Fields
May 21, 2020

Organizations such as the CDC, the Association of Public Health Laboratories, and many others have been on board to help app developers and state public health officials develop contract tracing apps.

The companies had earlier promised that the API would be destroyed once the pandemic is over and contact-tracing apps are no longer required. This has also highlighted the privacy shortcomings of other approaches that user location data and store it on government servers. For iPhone owners, users must update to iOS 13.5 in order to have access to Exposure Notifications.

The companies said 22 countries and several U.S. states are already planning to build voluntary phone apps using their software.

Britain's app was due to be released in mid-May, however it has now been pushed back until June.

North Dakota and Alabama were among the states that said they plan to quickly make use of the technology. So far, Apple and Google say they have conducted over 24 briefings and tech talks for public health officials, epidemiologists, and app developers working on their behalf.

Google and Apple have built the API to maintain user privacy.

Meanwhile, many governments are also ramping up hiring of human contact tracers who can try to track down people who may have been exposed to someone who has contracted COVID-19... no app required. Exposure Notification has the specific goal of rapid notification, which is especially important to slowing the spread of the disease with a virus that can be spread asymptomatically.

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Amid concerns about the security and use of the personal data such tracing apps will generate, Google and Apple laid down several conditions for the use of their technology.

To help, Apple and Google cooperated to build Exposure Notifications technology that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones.

But authorities would have to stop requiring phone numbers from users under the companies' rules, one of several restrictions that have left governments fighting the novel coronavirus frustrated that the world's top two smartphone software makers undercut the technology's usefulness by prioritizing user privacy.

"User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps", Apple and Google said in a statement.

Each public health authority will be able to set parameters for what counts as an exposure, such as how long someone spent near another user, or how close they got.

Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts.

The UK is pursuing its own app that uses a "centralised" approach. The API is the Application Programming Interface, the set of software tools that lets these new exposure-notification apps communicate with Apple and Google's operating systems.

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