Apple, Google Offer Covid-19 Contact Tracing

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coronavirus Image credit: World Health Organisation

No need for official government app! Apple and Google to roll-out built-in Covid-19 exposure notifications to smartphones

Apple and Alphabet’s Google division have announced on Tuesday a new Covid-19 contact tracing system, without the need for governments to build their own individual apps.

The new system is called ‘Exposure Notifications Express’ (ENE), and it allows a public health authority to submit a configuration file to Apple and Google. The two tech giants will then use that file to set up systems that phone users can opt in to, in order to determine whether they have been near someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

The global Coronavirus pandemic has seen many governments around the world rolling out their own individual Covid-19 contact tracing apps. Northern Ireland released its app in July, but the app for England and Wales is still being tested. Scotland is modelling its own app on the Republic of Ireland’s app.

Image credit: Apple
Image credit: Apple

Exposure Notifications Express

Both Apple and Google are effectively integrating their decentralised contact-tracing technology more directly into their operating systems.

Exposure Notifications Express will arrive in Apple’s just released iOS 13.7 and will alert users whether an exposure notification system is available from local health authorities. It allow users to set it up without downloading any new apps.

For Android, ENE will arrive on Google phones later this month, and users will get a prompt from the Android operating system, but will still have to download a bespoke app.

So how does it all work?

For Apple users who opt into the ENE, it will keep a 14-day log of other phones detected via Bluetooth and will then serve an alert if one or more of those users is later diagnosed to have Covid-19.

The local public health authority can determine what the warning notification says, and can request users to download a more fully functional app for further guidance.

No need for government apps

But more importantly, the ENE solution from Apple and Google does give governments around the world the option of not developing an app of their own.

Both Google and Apple said that Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington DC will be the first US locations to use the new system.

Meanwhile the NHS app for England and Wales has been under development for months by NHSX, the Department of Health’s NHS technology division.

The government in June, after concerns about privacy issues, had abandoned the first centralised version of the app, and instead opted for the decentralised approach used by the Apple-Google framework.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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