Google and Apple Silently Add COVID-19 Exposure Notifications

covid-19 ios android exposure notifications

Google and Apple have added the COVID-19 Exposure Notifications option on both iOS and Android as a silent background update.

Today, people have noticed these new changes on their respective phones which inform people of their purpose.

They appear under Settings > Privacy > Health and on Android, the new notification appears under Settings > Google > COVID-19 Exposure Notifications.

“When enabled, iPhone can exchange random IDs with other devices using Bluetooth. This enables an app to notify you if you have been exposed to COVID-19. Exposure logging cannot access any data in, or add any data to, the Health app,” it says on iOS.

The Android counterpart has a similar message. “To turn on COVID-19 Exposure Notifications, install or finish setting up a participating app. The app can notify you if you’ve been near someone who reported having COVID-19.

The Android version explains in detail how the system works. “The date, duration and signal strength associated with an exposure will be shared with the app. Your phone uses Bluetooth to securely collect and share random IDs with other phones that are nearby. Random IDs are automatically deleted after 14 days. If you have COVID-19, you can choose to share your phone’s random IDs with the app so it can notify others anonymously. Device location needs to be on to detect Bluetooth devices near you, however COVID-19 Exposure Notifications don’t use device location,” it says.

This move is actually not a surprise to people that have been keeping up with the news. On April 10th, Apple and Google partnered on a COVID-19 contact tracing technology that used Bluetooth to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus. They said that they will be launching APIs and operating system level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.

They were to launch the APIs in May and in the coming months, they were to enable a broader Bluetooth based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. I believe this is what they have done right now as a worldwide update on their respective platforms.

This plan brought about privacy issues before. Early last month, both companies said that they wont allow GPS data collection because GPS is an unstable, battery draining workaround. They also said privacy and preventing government from using the system to compile data on their citizens was their primary goal.

Developers were to use the APIs to create these contact tracing apps for NGOs and governments. However, the implementation worldwide is interesting.  The UK decided to abandon a contact tracing app for Apple and Google yesterday. Japan, on the other hand rolled out a Microsoft developed COVID-19 contact tracing app which will be available this week.

In Kenya, we have people that are working on contact tracing apps, like this Kenyan Lecturer from Masinde Muliro University and these researchers from Mt Kenya University.


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