- Contact tracing technology built by Apple, Google for smartphones is showing up on Android phones in India.
- The API allows governments to build contact tracing apps that seamlessly track smartphones to trace Covid-19 infections.
- n India, Aarogya Setu cannot use it because it is not compatible with Google-Apple API.
Android phones in India are now receiving support for Exposure Notifications meant to facilitate contact tracing on compatible apps made by local government or authorities so that Covid-19 infections can be traced. The Google Settings option on Android now shows "Covid-19 Exposure Notifications" in the list, which can allow users to participate in digital contact tracing and help minimise the spread of the infectious disease. However, the new feature on your Android phone will not be of much use to you.
In India, the government has its own app Aarogya Setu, which too is used for contact tracing. Currently, the Setu app is not compatible with the Google-Apple API for contact tracing and hence cannot use the feature now available in smartphones. Google and Apple require governments to agree to certain terms and conditions, mostly privacy-centric before their apps can be allowed to use the Exposure Notifications.
The two main differences between Aarogya Setu app and an app based on Google-Apple API are going to be related to effectiveness and privacy. The Google-Apple API allows contact tracing apps to use features like Bluetooth in a better way so contact tracing is better and more robust. The second difference in user privacy. Aarogya Setu, for example, requires information such as the location of users for contact tracing to work effectively. The Exposure Notifications, on the other hand, is strictly against collecting the GPS information because the APIs for this feature are designed to collect anonymous data and create random IDs, which are shared with other devices to facilitate contact tracing.
The result, for now, is that in India, users will have to rely on Aarogya Setu for contact tracing, instead of using an app based on API that is now core part of Android phones and iPhone software.
"The Exposure Notifications System was built with your privacy and security central to the design. Your identity is not shared with other users, Google, or Apple," a Google statement on the Exposure Notifications technology said. The Covid-19 Exposure Notifications settings on the Android phones do not show the Aarogya Setu app, even if the app is installed.
While India dropped out of using the contact tracing technology developed by Apple and Google, as many as 23 countries have shown their interest in it. In fact, countries such as Switzerland and Italy have already begun testing the APIs for Covid-19 Exposure Notifications feature for their own contact tracing apps.