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Apple, Google release contact tracing API to help health authorities fight coronavirus

Last month, Apple and Google, came together to build an API to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, without compromising on user privacy and security

twitter-logo Nidhi Singal        Last Updated: May 21, 2020  | 10:44 IST
Apple, Google release contact tracing API to help health authorities fight coronavirus

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Designed for public health agencies and governments
  • Can be used to create apps for contact tracing
  • Focuses on consume privacy, restricts access to location services

Technology giants - Apple and Google - have released the application programming interface (API) that will help public health agencies and governments around the world to create mobile applications that might aid in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Referred as "exposure notification" tool, the two companies confirmed that as of now  22 countries on five continents have requested and received access to the API and more are expected to join in the coming weeks.

The API released is the result of feedback the joint project team received from hundreds of conversations over the past five weeks with publich health agencies (PHAs), NGOs, academics, government officials and privacy experts in America and dozens of countries across five continents.

"Starting today, our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we've built is not an app - rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps. 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," says Apple and Google.

Also read: Coronavirus: Aiisma launches contact tracing for non-smartphone users

Last month, Apple and Google, came together to build an API to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, without compromising on user privacy and security. As COVID-19 is transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, contact tracing has emerged as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. In response to challenges associated with interoperability, battery life and privacy, this API will help PHAs maximise the potential of Bluetooth technology. The resulting API addresses these challenges and helps PHAs build Exposure Notification apps that become part of robust, comprehensive programs grounded in testing, conventional contact tracing and containment. The companies highlighted the fact that this exposure notifications technology is a supplement to, not a substitute for traditional contact tracing and both companies are firmly grounded in the fact that it's another tool at the disposal of PHAs - not a silver bullet.

Also read: Coronavirus: CERT-In says phishing attacks in name of Aarogya Setu increasing

Apple and Google had released some principles in association with the released API. For instance, using the released API, apps must be created by or for a government public health authority and they can only be used for COVID-19 response efforts. The apps must require users to consent before the app can use the Exposure Notification API. Apps must require users to consent before sharing a positive test result, and the "keys" associated with their devices, with the public health authority. With consumer privacy being the top priority, the apps designed should only collect the minimum amount of data necessary and can only use that data for COVID-19 response efforts. All other uses of user data, including targeted advertising, is not permitted. Apps are also prohibited from seeking permission to access location services. Most importantly, the use of the API will be restricted to one app per country to promote high user adoption and avoid fragmentation. If a country has opted for a regional or state approach, the companies are prepared to support those authorities.

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown 4.0: Govt makes Aarogya Setu app optional in latest guidelines

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