Apple and Google expand security, privacy of COVID-19 tracking system

Apple and Google are enhancing the privacy and security of their jointly developed system that will use iOS and Android phones to track COVID-19 spread, according to CNBC.

The tech giants partnered this month on the system, which uses Bluetooth technology and application programming interfaces to promote interoperability between iOS and Android devices. This will allow public health agencies to create smartphone apps to track and notify people who have been in close proximity to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The technical updates Apple and Google made to the system on April 24 include the ability to share strength and duration of a Bluetooth signal so the apps can make better judgments of COVID-19 encounters; the ability to notify people about the number of days since potential exposure; and security around random keys and the system's processing of Bluetooth metadata, according to the report.

Governments are also asking Apple to relax some of the privacy provisions so they can build apps that interface with a centralized database. This would allow human contact tracers to identify a person and call them when they may have been exposed to the virus. The system is currently designed to allow potentially infected people to remain anonymous if they choose, according to the report.

The tech companies now refer to the system as "exposure notification" rather than "contact tracing" to reflect the technology's difference from traditional contact tracing efforts in public health.

Apple and Google plan to make the APIs available in mid-May.

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