Google and Apple announce their joint Exposure Notification API is live

Apple and Google officially launch Exposure Notifications to fight COVID-19

The companies said they're not trying to replace contact tracing, a pillar of infection control that involves trained public health workers reaching out to people who may have been exposed to an infected person. Apple and Google have assured that privacy is an utmost consideration by making various improvements during the API's development. These people will be asked to avoid contact with others to prevent the spread of the disease.

"What we've built is not an app-rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install", Google said in a blog post.

It utilises Bluetooth radios within smartphones.

"Mobile devices can be used in an automated and scalable way to help determine who has been exposed to a person that later reports a positive diagnosis of COVID-19", the internet giants explained in their documentation [PDF]. However, a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that almost 60% of Americans would not be willing to download a contact tracing app. What that is exactly is not certain. At the present time it is if you've been within 1.5 metres of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer. Our technology is created to make these apps work better.

The project is designed with two phases in mind.

Apart from this, the app could also be tricked into allowing access to internal files on the user's phone.

Pertaining to this, most governments have been building their own contact tracing apps. Many of those applications have actually experienced technological issues on Apple and Android phones and have not been extensively embraced.

Apple and Google officially launch Exposure Notifications to fight COVID-19
Apple and Google contact tracing technology could be integrated into COVIDSafe app

These identifiers get stored on device.

Adoption of the new Google and Apple API ensures that the user experience for the app will be the best possible, without the need for complex restrictions in order to maintain continuous use of Bluetooth.

The companies have assured users that the tracing system will not involve location, and Bluetooth metadata will be encrypted. Twenty-four briefings and tech talks were conducted by Google and Apple for epidemiologists, health officials, and app developers working on their behalf. They often use Global Positioning System to track people's location, which Apple and Google are banning from their new tool because of privacy and accuracy concerns. Phase two is projected to arrive "in the coming months".

But though providing an enabling API is a significant contribution, it probably won't be enough to make contact tracing apps a helpful tool in reducing virus spread.

Public health officials can now contact exposed individuals directly and provide them with the safety measures they should take based on the voluntarily submitted user data they have provided.

With only 81 per cent of people in the USA having smartphones, we could only capture about 65 per cent of exposure events, based on Metcalfe's Law of network scale. "This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities", Google had earlier said.

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