Apple and Google today have released their COVID-19 Exposure Notification tools, to assist public health authorities in tracking the spread of coronavirus.
Both companies released a joint statement detailing the launch of the COVID-19 opt-in tracking tool, made available for iPhones and Android smartphones.
“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,” explains the joint statement.
“Over the last several weeks, 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,” continued the statement.
“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,” explained Apple and Google.
In the United States, feedback from public health authorities and experts have made Apple and Google make some changes to the system, now allowing users to share ZIP codes and phone numbers, if they allow for it, according to Bloomberg.
So far, 22 countries on five continents have been granted access to the Exposure Notification system.
“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,” concluded Apple and Google.
The second phase of Apple and Google’s COVID-19 contact tracing solution will be the eventual integration of the Exposure Notification tool directly into iOS and Android, without the need to install a health authority app using the API. This second phase is expected in the coming months and the opt-in tool should allow for even more widespread tracking of COVID-19.
No word whether Canadian officials have been in contact with Apple and Google or not, but earlier this month, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner blessed the COVID-19 contact tracing solution.