Apple, Google release coronavirus contact tracing APIs to select developers

Topics Apple Inc | Google | Coronavirus

The bluetooth-driven exposure notification system to enable iOS and Android phones trace the spread of coronavirus is completely safe, said the tech giants last week
Apple and Google on Wednesday released the first version of exposure notification (earlier called contact tracing) Application Programming Interface (API) to select developers associated with public health authorities (PHAs) around the world.

This is a developer-focused release and is consistent with both the companies deliver beta copies of their software at the same time.

Aimed at helping developers begin testing in anticipation of the API's release in mid-May, another goal of the release is to encourage feedback that will help improve the various features, the tech giants said in a statement.

"Collaboration and transparency have been two key principles of the project for both companies. Additional details will be announced on Friday," they added.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told the European Union (EU) Commissioner Thierry Breton last week that the API would arrive shortly.

On April 10, Google and Apple announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of Covid-19 through contact tracing, with user privacy and security core to the design.

Amid the growing debate over privacy and security around contact tracing technology, the tech giant last week announced new updates to allay such fears, saying the Bluetooth-driven exposure notification system to enable iOS and Android phones trace the spread of coronavirus is completely safe.

Apple and Google representatives said they are encrypting metadata associated with Bluetooth. The tech giants said that the 'Exposure Notification Bluetooth Specification' does not use location for proximity detection. It strictly uses Bluetooth beaconing to detect proximity.

Google and Apple have already released documentation on the Bluetooth and cryptography specifications as well as an API framework.

In addition, Apple is releasing Beta 3 of iOS 13.5, the first pre-release version of iOS to contain the code needed to run apps built using the exposure notification API.

Similarly, Google has delivered its beta Google Play Services update with the exposure notification API and the accompanying SDK privately to select developers who can begin testing using Android Developer Studio.

On Friday, both companies will release additional information including sample code to aid developers in understanding how the exposure notification system will operate, and specific criteria for developing apps.

Recently, Britain declined to use the Apple-Google framework API to build its contact tracing app. The country’s National health organisation’s digital arm in reportedly creating a centralised app. The framework proposed by Apple and Google is a decentralised one, meaning that the tracking information will not be stored in a central server. NHSX, in a blog over the weekend, said that it has prioritised security and privacy in all stages of the app's development, starting with the initial design, and user testing.

In retrospective, public-health authorities across countries believe that improved tracking of infected people and their contacts could slow the rate of pandemic spread.

In light of this, Apple and Google decided to come together in building tools that could help authorities build contact tracing apps, which shall be used in the operating systems of the billions of iPhones and Android devices around the world.

Here is how the contact tracing tech work
  • After downloading the public health app, the user will have to permit it to collect anonymous data
  • When he/she meets a person, a record will be made
  • If a person updates his/her status as Covid-19 +ve, the app shall update data on the cloud
  • Other people’s app will check if they had met any Covid-19 +ve person
  • If a match is found, the user will be alerted

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