Apple and Google are tweaking plans for tech to help officials track coronavirus exposure
Apple and Google are tweaking plans for tech to help officials track coronavirus exposure

On Friday, both the tech giants, Apple and Google announced recent updates on their proposed system that will allow iOS and Android phones to trace the spread of the Covid-19. The companies said the updated system consists of security and privacy modifications which have been requested by representatives from governments and public health authorities.

Previously, in April both the companies had planned to construct new technology into iOS and Android which will make the development of contact tracing apps possible. These apps will track whether a person has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Hence, this will permit public health officials to inform individuals of their exposure.

The system makes use of Bluetooth short-range wireless technology which has been built into both Android and iOS systems. Therefore, it will be possible for governments around the globe to make use of picked up signals from smartphones to inform people if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

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The apps won’t be developed by Apple and Google. Instead, contract tracing apps will be developed by public health officials. Furthermore, both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store have restrictions on coronavirus apps that do not belong to a recognized authority. The companies previously said APIs will become accessible in mid-May.

Nevertheless, on Friday the companies changed the specifications they’re using to describe the system. They now call it “exposure notification,” instead of “contact tracing.” This was done to make it distinct from traditional contact tracing methods in public health institutions. These methods use phone calls to inform people that they may have been endangered from someone with Covid-19.

Photo Credit: cnbc.com

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Other changes announced on Friday include:

  • The system can now share the strength and duration of a Bluetooth signal to allow apps to make a better judgment of who someone has been in contact with. 
  • To protect against misuse of the technology to track individual users, the Bluetooth metadata will be encrypted. 
  • The arrangement will share only an approximate time of shared communication, from at least 5 minutes to 30 minutes, in 5-minute increments.
  • Soon, the numbers sent by individual phones will be randomly generated daily.

Governments are now forcing Apple to lift some of these privacy terms to allow them to develop apps in connection with a centralized database. This would enable human contact tracers working for the government to call people and notify them they might have been endangered. Without Apple’s API, governments could construct these kinds of contact tracing apps but they require to stay active and operating in the background on an iPhone to run. This results in draining battery life and making the app unworkable.

Apple is not, however, planning to slacken the iPhone’s system limitations which were developed in order to guard user privacy, according to a representative. Representatives also said that the system will be distributed on iPhones released in and after 2015, that run on iOS 13. Meanwhile, Android phones running on Android 6.0 or later will have the system distributed to them.

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