- Apple and Google had earlier announced making a COVID-tracking tool for their phones
- The Apple and Google's exposure notifications tool has now been rolled out in India.
- There are concerns that this is a privacy risk but they aren’t real.
If you check your iPhone privacy settings and check under "Health" you will see something called "COVID-19 exposure logging". Similarly, if you check privacy settings for Google on your Android phone, you will see something similar. Both Google and Apple have now updated their phones and software with an inbuilt exposure notification tool that can be used to track Covid-19 patients, and their contacts, somewhat similar to how India's Aarogya Setu app does. But there are big differences in how it is handled by Setu and how Apple and Google are doing it.
The software for the iPhone and Android phones were updated last week to include this tool. Now there is a message going viral on WhatsApp claiming that this is a huge security risk and that Google and Apple can now track every Indian with a smartphone. It's also not accurate. What is going on? Let us explain:
-- The Apple iPhones and Android phones have received the "Exposure Notification" API that Apple and Google had been developing for quite some time. However, it doesn't track your locations and other details until you allow it to do so.
-- When you try turning on the Exposure Notification toggle on your Apple iPhone, the message below the toggle tells you that you cannot turn on the Exposure Logging without installing an authorized app that can send Exposure Notifications. So contrary to the claims, unless you wilfully download the designated app, the "tracker installed" is as good as nothing.
Why so? This is because the Google-Apple tool is an API that can be used only by an authorized app. This app, say Google and Apple, can be made only by a government or a government-authorized agency. Also, there is only one such app allowed by Google and Apple per country. The exposure notification tool in India doesn't work until the Indian government makes an app that can use it. Aarogya Setu app is different and can't use Google-Apple API unless it is modified by the government and approved by Google and Apple.
-- Globally many governments have either made or are making contact tracking apps to keep a check on coronavirus infections. If you download any of these apps, the phone will then communicate with other phones for contact tracing. But there are privacy safeguards built-in. For example communication between phones happens using random IDs through Bluetooth. The random IDS your device collects are stored in an exposure log for 14 days, the app then notifies you if you come in contact with any COVID-infected person.
— If a person is infected with COVID-19, he or she can share their device's random IDs with the authorized app so it can notify the other users who have come in their contact. All this would be done without revealing the identity of the infected person.
— India is one of the countries that has its own COVID-19 tracking tool, Aarogya Setu, which has grown immensely popular in these days. However, it is learned that the Exposure Notification API created by Apple and Google is incompatible with the Aarogya Setu App. It is being said that privacy is one of the main reasons why it won't work with the Aarogya Setu. The app by the government uses location as the sole mode of tracking and tracing infected individuals whereas Apple and Google were firm on their decision not to collect the location data through their API for this purpose.