10 key things you should know about Apple-Google's COVID-19 contact tracing app

Last Updated : 25 April 2020, 16:24 IST

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Last month, in a major development, Apple and Google jointly announced to offer their expertise to develop the COVID-19 contact tracing app to assist consumers and most importantly regional health officials to contain the spread of the global pandemic.

However, some privacy activists cautioned the move, suggesting the companies to come up with clear information on how the user information will be recorded, processed and not used any commercial purpose after the eradication of the coronavirus, which we all pray it happens soon.

Now, both Apple and Google have released a white paper on the COVID-19 contact tracing app's user-privacy policy in clear points.

1) COVID-19 contact tracing app users will have explicit choice to turn on the technology — and can turn it off at any time
2) The system doesn’t collect or use location data, including for users who report positive
3) Bluetooth privacy-preserving beacons rotate every 10-20 minutes, to help prevent tracking
4) Keys don’t reveal user identity or location of exposure
5) The user controls all data they want to share, and the decision to share it
6) User identities are never shared to other users, Google or Apple
7) Matching for exposure notification is only done on-device, under the user's control
8) People who test positive are not identified to other users, or to Apple or Google
9) The system is only used for exposure notification by official public health authorities and isn’t monetized
10) Google and Apple can disable the exposure notification system on a regional basis when it is no longer needed

Here's how Apple-Google's COVID-19 contact tracing app works:
Once you download thee COVID-19 contact tracing app, it will ask for Bluetooth-enabled location tracking permission. Once that is done, the phone sends a beacon by Bluetooth to other phones in the nearby regions.

The companies say the app will remain active in the background 24x7. If you ever come close to the person, who later gets infected with COVID-19 and it’s confirmed by the local health department, your phone will automatically receive an alert, saying you’ve been in contact with someone with the virus. As mentioned above, the data will be turned in to randomly generated Keys, so the app will not reveal the person by name or where or when you met him or her.

Also, it can warn the device owner to avoid traveling to red zones where coronavirus positive cases are high. Additionally, the local health department officials, based on the positive cases in a particular region, create the containment zones and restrict the movement of the people.

This, in turn, will help control the growth of the coronavirus positive cases and offers time for the regional government on improving their health facility in terms of ventilators, Personal Protective Equipment(PPEs) for doctors, stocking up the medicines and most importantly, gives a breathing space for scientists to work on developing the correct vaccine, conduct tests and finally deliver to the public, to bring an end to the micro-demon called coronavirus.

It can be noted that the COVID-19 contact tracing application development is a two-phase project. Initially, Apple and Google will come with separate applications in mid-May, which have to be installed on the iPhones (& iPads) and Android mobiles (& tablets), respectively in select regions.

In the second phase, the companies will integrate the same application directly into the user-interface that is iOS and Android, so that there is no need for people to install the app. This is expected to be completed in the coming months.

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Published 25 April 2020, 16:23 IST

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