Apple and Google have shared information about exposure notifications that will be a part of their contact tracing system to help people detect the spread of COVID-19. The new notification system will appear in various contact tracing apps using the technology designed by the tech giants. In addition to providing how exposure notifications will surface on phones, Apple and Google have released sample interface designs to show how the potential apps using their contact tracing system would work in the future. The companies have also released a cryptography specification for enabling exposure notifications.
Exposure notifications will emerge on the screen as an alert to let people know if they've been exposed to someone who has tested positive or is at risk of being exposed to COVID-19. “They are meant to support and augment public health's existing contact tracing efforts, not replace them,” Apple and Google have written in a document explaining about the exposure notification system.
Public health authorities will have the system to decide who the notifications will be triggered on phones. They'll also have the option to include what next steps should be advised to users and how to reach exposed individuals for further contact tracing and containment programmes.
The contact tracing system that Apple and Google are developing together will push exposure notifications if the user has been exposed to a person who later reports themselves as COVID-19 positive. The notifications will rely upon sharing and collecting of random IDs over Bluetooth. Moreover, users will have the option to disable exposure notifications from the apps in case they don't want to receive any alerts.
Resources for developers
Alongside detailing the exposure notification system, Apple and Google have provided a sample code for both iOS and Android to help developers build contact tracing apps. Both companies have also independently released their policies that developers will need to follow if they want to use the Exposure Notifications APIs designed to work on the given system.
The policies have made it mandatory that contact tracing apps must be created by or for a government public health authority and should be used exclusively for COVID-19 response efforts. Similarly, user consent is important to push exposure notifications. Apple and Google have also directed developers that the contact tracing apps based on their system should “only collect the minimum amount of data necessary” and shouldn't use user data for any purposes other than enabling COVID-19 response efforts. The companies have also prohibited apps from seeking location access of users.
Apple and Google have also laid down six distinct principles that developers need to follow in order to use the resources provided. One of those principles says that the use of the Exposure Notifications API “will be restricted to one app per country to promote high user adoption and avoid fragmentation.” However, there is an exception for the countries that have opted for a regional or state approach.
The developers working on contact tracing apps based on the system designed by Apple and Google have also been provided with the detailed technical specification for cryptographic keys that will enable exposure notifications. The specification is aimed to preserve user privacy while using a Bluetooth protocol to understand and alert about possible exposure to the deadly virus.
That being said, Apple and Google are currently improving the contact tracing system they introduced on April 10. The iPhone maker launched the first beta release of Xcode 11.5 that included a new version of the iOS SDK along with the Exposure Notifications API. It also brought iOS 13.5 beta 3 for developers with the setting to enable or disable exposure notifications. Similarly, Google recently brought its first beta update for Google Play Services with the Exposure Notifications API and an SDK to help developers begin testing the contact tracing system on Android devices.
Both tech companies are set to release additional updates to their software and developer tools to help developers build advanced contact tracing apps in the future. They're also supposedly addressing concerns raised by the European Commission and other global authorities.
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