Google and Apple release contact tracing API for Covid-19 trackers across the globe

Google and Apple release contact tracing API for Covid-19 trackers across the globe
Photo Credit: Reuters
21 May, 2020

Search giant Google and consumer technology firm Apple have released ‘exposure notifications’ technology for contact tracing apps created by public health officials. 

Contact tracing is a method used by many governments across the globe to contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been affected by Covid-19.

The technology companies defined exposure notifications as a way by which individuals can be notified if they are in close proximity of the virus, without any issues relating to their privacy or misuse of data.

Back in India, the contact tracing application Aarogya Setu came under heavy scrutiny after issues were raised regarding its privacy policies and allegedly having a loose security framework. Similarly, Australia’s CovidSafe, UK’s  NHS Covid-19 and Singapore’s TraceTogether have all had privacy concerns.

The exposure notification from Google and Apple promises to keep the security and privacy of the users at the highest standards while also allowing for quick notifications with respect to coming into contact with a potentially infected individual.

“Over the last several weeks, our two companies have worked together, reaching out to public health officials, scientists, privacy groups and government leaders all over the world to get their input and guidance,” Google said in a blog post.

Apple and Google first announced they would jointly work on contact tracing technology back in April. The tracing technology would enable the use of Bluetooth technology in order to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security as the central pillar.

The exposure notifications technology would be available to public health agencies through an application program interface and not an application.

The API can be incorporated into the design of existing or upcoming contact tracing applications seamlessly.

“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,” Google said.

In a major privacy move, the tracing solution will also allow a person diagnosed with Covid-19 to report their test results to the public or not. Google and Apple said that such strong privacy measures were the best way to encourage the use of such applications.

It is to be noted that in India the Aarogya Setu app was made compulsory for government workers and travelers, which was questioned by experts.

The technical details of the API and how it can be incorporated were mentioned by Google in its blog post.