Google and Apple release technology to help with coronavirus contact tracing

Yolanda Curtis
May 23, 2020

Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has praised Apple and Google's efforts, noted that there are privacy concerns relating to the tech.

With dozens of contact tracing apps available, it will be hard to conduct contact tracing across the different state or country borders. They are aiming to develop and improve the system by working closely with the PHAs who use the API.

Update problems aside, another problem stems from the reluctance of Apple and Google to share this private health data with local, state, and federal agencies. But there's a larger, more immediate issue.

At the time of writing, 22 countries across five continents have already requested access to the Exposure Notification API for their respective health apps.

Google and Apple announce their joint Exposure Notification API is live

The Exposure Notifications technology is available now to public health agencies on both iOS and Android.

On one level, that's smart.

Apple and Google insist that no data will be shared with public health authority apps, apart from two exceptions. In a Brookings Institution blog post last month, privacy researcher Ashkan Soltani, law professor Ryan Calo, and biology professor Carl Bergstrom argued that contact tracing apps at best will be only marginally helpful to limit the spread of COVID-19, and could harm privacy and enable malicious attacks.

Apart from this, the app could also be tricked into allowing access to internal files on the user's phone. As I have written before, we, me and a couple of friends, tried to craft a privacy-preserving exposure tracking mobile application, but was blocked by the requirements of Apple and Google of having the endorsement of the Department of Health (DOH).

On April 10, Apple and Google announced that they would work together on a comprehensive privacy-focused contact-tracing system for the novel coronavirus disease.

However, if the companies want the contact tracing apps to be successful, they will likely have to do more than enable the apps on a technical level behind the scenes.

Aarogya Setu uses location data as a mode to track and trace individuals infected with the coronavirus, and this is one of the key reasons why the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API tool will not work with the app. Education, it turns out, is a big component of this-and it may be just as important as the technology.

The firms had actually introduced the extraordinary partnership to take advantage of their technology to aid trace and have the spread of coronavirus last month, and claim 22 nations and a number of U.S. states are now preparing to construct volunteer phone applications utilizing their software program. "Large proportions of the population are convinced that either "Big Tech" or "Big Government" is out to steal their data or spy on them".

The COVIDSafe app has been out for almost a month but Australian states and territories have scarcely used it for any of the crucial contact tracing data it provides.

The key to using smartphones for exposure notification and contract tracing is giving them the ability to constantly sense each other.

Keep in mind that in order to use COVID-19 exposure notifications, you will need to also download a public health app that supports Apple's contact tracing.

Apple already likes to tell the stories of people whose lives were saved by the health features in their Apple Watch; it needs to tell similar stories about contact tracing.

The COVIDSafe app keeps an encrypted log of everyone who also has the app on their device if they come into close contact with each other, but users can not access that list. This API allows developers or governments to create applications that can help perform digital contact tracing.

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