Isolate potentially infected individuals, track and trace contacts -- these are steps responsible governments are taking to help stem the tide of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020.
Many governments around the world are developing contact tracing apps which meet the privacy standard advocated by Google and Apple, in order to ensure their apps will function only on Android and IOS devices. Google and Apple, the world’s leading makers of smartphone operating systems, recently released their contact tracing API (known as the “exposure notification” API) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Some 22 countries (including Ireland) across 5 continents and a number of US states have already requested access to the software. Notably missing from this list are France and the UK.
The API is not itself a contact tracing application -- instead, it enables governments and public health authorities to incorporate the software into their own apps that people install. The API will enable Bluetooth technology to run in the background of the phone, including on a locked phone. Without this ability for background use of Bluetooth technology, the utility of Apps would be greatly decreased.
Users would turn on and unlocks their phones, for the Apps to be able to use Bluetooth and log encounters. Apple and Google are limiting use of their API technology to government contact-tracing Apps.
Privacy activists have praised the protections ordered by Apple and Google’s API, as being in line with the principles of data protection by design and by default.
Google and Apple have explicitly barred use of the API in any apps that seek GPS loca on data from users, which means some apps being developed by public health authori es for contact tracing will not be able to use the API. In addition, the API can will only work on Apps using a decentralized system that uses randomly generated temporary keys created on a user’s device (but not linked to their specific identity or exact location).
The API allows public health officials to decide what constitutes exposure in terms of exposure time and distance. They can adjust transmission risk and other factors according to their own standards.