I’ve heard from a lot of you who were concerned when options for receiving COVID-19 tracking notifications popped up on your phones. A lot of you were worried that apps had been installed without your permission or that you were being tracked without your permission.
Let’s break down the facts as I know them. As far as I know, no COVID-19 contact tracing apps have been installed on phones without permission in the U.S., UK, Canada, or Australia. COVID-19 tracing apps are available in phone app stores and some countries have developed national app.
How do these apps work?
- Download and install the app on your phone
- Give the app permission to track your location
- Grant permission for the app to send notifications to your phone
Let’s say a store that you frequent announces that several workers have tested positive for COVID-19. You’d receive a notification via the app because your phone would know that you’d been there recently.
Or someone who visited the same beauty salon as you on June 21, later finds out they have tested positive for COVID-19. If they put that information into the tracing app, you would be notified because you were in the same location as that person. The apps also use Bluetooth to determine how close you to to the person who reports the infection and how long the contact lasted.
Here’s the joint statement that Google and Apple issued about the technology.
“One of the most effective techniques that public health officials have used during outbreaks is called contact tracing. Through this approach, public health officials contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person. One new element of contact tracing is Exposure Notifications: using privacy-preserving digital technology to tell someone they may have been exposed to the virus. Exposure Notification has the specific goal of rapid notification, which is especially important to slowing the spread of the disease with a virus that can be spread asymptomatically.
To help, Apple and Google cooperated to build Exposure Notifications technology that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones. 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.
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.”