Apple and Google released its Exposure Notification API to the public on Wednesday. It was created as a contact-tracing software tool and later named Exposure Notification system. It’s designed to notify individuals of a risk of exposure to others who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Public health agencies and governments worldwide can use the API in apps developed and released to the public. Apple and Google are not developing an app together (or individually) but may use this API in upcoming updates of their mobile operating systems – watch this space!
What’s really impressive is that Google and Apple have created this software without infringing on any privacy rights. These two tech giants have done the utmost to ensure data privacy and have a strict ban on the use of the API in apps that require geolocation information permission from its users. No identifying data or location information is unveiled in the use of this API.
Want to know exactly how it works? The software uses Bluetooth wireless technology that identifies when one app user has spent time near another app user, who then tests positive for coronavirus. The system uses the Bluetooth connections between devices to log users within proximity for at least five minutes. It uses a decentralized identifier system making use of a selection of randomly generated temporary keys created on the user’s device. These keys have no link to said user’s identity or any other personal information unless the user voluntarily submitted the data. Apps developers may use the API in conjunction with existing user data — personal information submitted through other individual apps enabling health organizations to contact users exposed to the virus.
The parameters inputted into the software to identify potential exposure to the virus are left to be defined by public health agencies and medical experts.
It’s evident that there’s a place for contact-tracing technology with medical authorities able to identify and test those recently in the vicinity of an infected person. This technology is being used as a tool to quell outbreaks and the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Some governments currently using contact-tracing applications have been quick to express their reluctance at adopting new software that removes geolocation. By tracking the user’s location, the argument is that they can quickly identify the area in which the virus is spreading and notify the local authorities with calls or texts.
Google and Apple have had 22 countries and some U.S. states request access to the API, but there are no indicators of how many will go ahead and develop an app using the tech. Some countries are ready to adopt this new software and others want access to draw a comparison between what they’re currently using and what they could build with this API.
Ultimately, the success of this software lies in the user adoption of apps developed off the back of the API. And, while the privacy protection doesn’t woo governments and public health organizations, the average user must feel encouraged that their personal info is safeguarded.
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