COVID-19 Pandemic: Apple and Google Released Exposure Notification API

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The programming interface is exclusively available to registered state health authorities. Both companies emphasize the strict privacy features that are designed to give users full control over their data. Among other things, Apple and Google can switch off the function regionally.

Apple And Google have announced the availability of the announced programming interface, which allows data from both companies to be integrated into the planned state-owned Corona apps. The so-called Exposure Notification API is designed to allow health authorities around the world to understand who has had contact with a user infected with the novel coronavirus.

Apple and google (Picture: Google)“To help, Apple and Google have worked together to develop an exposure notification technology that will enable apps developed by health authorities to be more accurate, reliable, and effective in Androidphones and iPhones,” reads a joint press release from Apple and Google. “Over the past few weeks, our two companies have worked together and reached out to health authorities, scientists, privacy groups and heads of government around the world for suggestions and advice.

Both companies stressed that they have not developed an app. However, the API provided helps to make the apps offered by the authorities work better. In addition, everyone can decide for themselves whether or not to use the exposure notifications. It is also up to the user whether to report a possible COVID-19 infection in the official health app. “User adoption is the key to success, and we believe that these strong privacy practices are also the best way to promote the use of these applications.”

Google also offers a reference design on GitHub to implement the programming interface into an Android app. There, Google assures that only registered state health authorities have access to the Application Programming Interface. It will also be integrated into a future version of Google Play Services. A reference implementation of the Exposure Notifications Server is also available on GitHub.

In an FAQ, Google also describes the function of a possible Corona app. It is intended to exchange random identifiers via Bluetooth, which are also regularly changed, with other people with whom a user has contact. If the user is diagnosed with COVID-19, the user can agree to upload his Bluetooth beacons from the past 14 days to an Exposure Notifications server. The server then informs the persons who have exchanged Bluetooth beacons with the infected person during this period – the beacons themselves are always stored only on their own smartphone, unless they are released for upload to a server in case of infection.

Google also describes the measures to protect users’ privacy. This means that users must explicitly consent to the use of Exposure Notifications technology and can switch off the system at any time. In addition, no location data would be collected or user identities transmitted to Google or Apple. In addition, Apple and Google are able to switch off the programming interface in regions where it is no longer needed.

What is clear, however, is that not every country will use the API offered by Google and Apple for its own Corona app. France, for example, is also pursuing Germany, which initially followed, an approach in which all data ends up centrally on servers controlled by the competent health authority. This strategy might deprive users of the decision to report an infection through the app. Britain, too, is taking this approach. According to initial surveys, this approach could undermine confidence in a Corona app and lead to a significant number of users not participating in such a program in the first place.

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