Just over a month after they started working on it, Apple and Google have made their COVID-fighting framework available to public health authorities.
The key to using smartphones for exposure notification and contract tracing is giving them the ability to constantly sense each other. This is best done through Bluetooth LE, but both iOS and Android prevent apps from using Bluetooth unless they’re active, so a special workaround is required. That has been built into this framework, but is only available to apps that use it.
“Starting today, our exposure notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android,” said a joint statement from the companies. “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 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 use of these apps.”
The Verge reports that three US states (the response is much more decentralised over there) are already working on apps that use the framework. That piece also contains some handy explanations and links about the underlying tech and privacy implications. Apparently a total of 22 countries have received access to the API.
Turning this around so quickly is a good effort from Apple and Google, as was their quick decision to put business rivalry to the side for the time being, but then this sort of thing is one of their core competencies. The same can’t be said for health agencies, which is why the hubris of those, like the NHS in the UK, is so frustrating. They should stop trying to reinvent the wheel and go with the best technology available, which is almost certainly this.