Apple, Google COVID-19 contact tracing API rolls out
- As of today, 22 countries on five continents have requested and received access to the API with more expected to join in the coming weeks
- Throughout the process, Apple and Google have released multiple beta versions of the software and posted documents publicly to help developers
Today, support for the Exposure Notifications System developed by Apple and Google has been released in publicly available software updates. With these updates, public health agencies (PHAs) around the globe can begin to deploy apps that make use of exposure notifications. The application programming interface (API) released today is the result of feedback the joint project team received from hundreds of conversations over the past five weeks with PHAs, NGOs, academics, government officials and privacy experts in America and dozens of countries across five continents.
As of today, 22 countries on five continents have requested and received access to the API with more expected to join in the coming weeks. Apple, Google said, “We have started shipping this first phase of our Exposure Notification System and look forward to working with PHAs to develop and improve the system so that we achieve their goal of broad user adoption with this privacy-forward approach.”
In response to challenges associated with interoperability, battery life and privacy, Google and Apple joined together to build an API that helps PHAs maximize the potential of Bluetooth technology. The resulting API addresses these challenges and helps PHAs build Exposure Notification apps that become part of robust, comprehensive programs grounded in testing, conventional contact tracing and containment. Exposure Notifications technology is a supplement to, not a substitute for traditional contact tracing and both companies are firmly grounded in the fact that it’s another tool at the disposal of PHAs – not a silver bullet.
Throughout the process, Apple and Google have released multiple beta versions of the software and posted documents publicly to help developers. These documents include the Bluetooth, cryptography, and API specifications, sample apps with source code, and a reference server implementation.
The statement reads, “Through all of these conversations, the goal was to find how to best meet PHAs’ need for technological support while respecting user privacy, consent and control. Understanding that user trust will be critically important to the success of the apps, PHAs and privacy experts were also crucial collaborators on stronger privacy and data security protections.” This is including:
- Updated the API so that daily Temporary Exposure Keys are generated randomly rather than being derived from a tracing key. This change strengthened the privacy of the system and makes it more difficult for someone to guess how the keys are derived and use that information to try and track people.
- Encrypted all metadata associated with Bluetooth traffic to make it more difficult to identify a person (for example, by associating the transmit power with a particular model of phone).
Apple and Google said, “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 slow 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, 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, the Exposure Notifications technology is now 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 the 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 the 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.
iOS 13.5 update now rolling out
Apple has started pushing the latest iOS 13.5 updates to user devices. The iOS 13.5 features support for the Exposure Notification API which was co-created with Google in order to support public health authorities in their contact tracing efforts to fight COVID-19. The API will need third-party apps which have been developed by public health authorities for use. The iOS device users already have access to COVID-19 Exposure Logging global settings.