Apple and Google announced today that they have rolled out a COVID-19 exposure notification system, “essentially a unified programming interface that will allow public health departments to create their own contact tracing applications,” reports ABC News. “Apple and Google are not building contact tracing apps.” From the report:
“Starting today, our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android,” Apple and Google said in a statement. “Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts.”
After an individual downloads and enables a contact tracing application on his phone, he would subsequently receive an alert if he is exposed to anyone who is diagnosed with or likely to have COVID-19. Of course, that assumes that the COVID-19-positive individual also has the application enabled on his phone. The companies said that digital contact tracing is meant to argument traditional human-to-human tracing, not replace it. Digital contact tracing is faster than traditional tracing, requires fewer resources and since it doesn’t rely on human memory, can make it easier to track exposure in crowded spaces, or contact with strangers. On the other hand, for such applications to be effective, they require users to download and enable the applications on their phones, and it’s not yet clear that Americans will be willing to do so en masse. “Once they download the app, users will have to consent to make their information available to the health authorities and can turn it on and off when they choose to,” the report adds. “Data collection will be kept private and only used by health authorities for COVID-19 exposure, not stored in a central database.”
The companies said that they will not monetize the data that comes out of the system.