The contact-tracing API co-developed by Google and Apple, now called Exposure Notification System, has been made available across the globe. Public health agencies and their partnered developers will be able to integrate the API into their iOS and Android apps for people to download.
Using Bluetooth technology, phones exchange randomly-generated IDs whenever they come in a certain proximity from each other. This allows the system to notify people if they have come within contact of someone who tested positive for Covid-19. However, it is up to the public health agency to define what constitutes an exposure, distance and time of contact are among the factors. The system will also notify users in the number of exposures they have had.
For clarification, it is up to the public health agencies to determine what is an exposure, based on their standards.
It is also crucial to know that the apps being developed are voluntary. If a person has tested positive, it is up to use the app and report themselves. This will launch notifications to all other devices that they have come in contact with.
When developing the API, Google and Apple ensured privacy was on top of the list. Geolocation is disabled, meaning apps that use Google-Apple’s API shouldn’t be able to pinpoint your location. The randomly-generated IDs constantly change and Bluetooth metadata is encrypting, preventing any possible identification what device is being used.
Right now, Google and Apple said there are 22 countries in five continents who have requested and received the Exposure Notification API. More are expected to roll out in the coming weeks.
Below is a statement from Google and Apple:
“One of the most effective techniques that public health officials have used during outbreaks is called contact tracing. Through this approach, public health officials contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person. One new element of contact tracing is Exposure Notifications: using privacy-preserving digital technology to tell someone they may have been exposed to the virus. 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.
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. Over the last several weeks, engineers from across our two companies have worked together, reaching out to public health officials, scientists, privacy groups and government leaders all over the world to get their input and guidance.
Starting today, our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we’ve built is not an app — rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. 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.
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.”
Months ago, during the announcement of the Google and Apple partnership, they have announced that this will be a “two phrase” project. The first is finishing the API and provide it to public health agencies in mid-May. Now that’s done, the second phase is supposedly to release OS updates in the following months that include the API into mobile devices.
We’ll have to wait and see how the second phase will push through. Google and Apple said they are working with public health agencies, so we can expect new strategies to fight the pandemic.