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Apple and Google on Wednesday announced to release their Exposure Notifications System (or contact tracing technology) to help public health agencies make their Bluetooth-based COVID-19 apps effective while protecting user privacy.
About 22 countries on five continents have requested and received access to the application programming interface (API), with more expected to join in the coming weeks, the tech giants said in a joint statement.
"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," said Apple and Google.
Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications and the system does not collect or use location from the device.
"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," said the companies.
Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted: "Technology can help health officials rapidly tell someone they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Today the Exposure Notification API we created with @Google is available to help public health agencies".
With these updates, public health agencies (PHAs) around the globe can begin to deploy apps that make use of exposure notifications.
The API released on Wednesday "is the result of feedback the joint project team received from hundreds of conversations over the past five weeks with PHAs, NGOs, academics, government officials and privacy experts in America and dozens of countries across five continents".
The API will allow PHAs to define what constitutes an exposure event and will allow them to determine the number of exposure events an individual has had.
"The API will allow PHAs to factor transmission risk of positive cases into their definition of an exposure event and a combination of the API and data that users voluntarily choose to input into the app allows PHAs to contact exposed users", said Apple and Google.
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.
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.
Both the companies provided developers with new resources to help them make exposure notification apps, including user interfaces (UI) and sample code for both iOS and Android.