Apple and Google’s contact tracing app has very discreetly found its place on our phones. If you check your setting, it will show up under Google services as “ COVID-19 exposure notifications.” The coming together of Apple and Google in April to help the world battle coronavirus with technology was already an unprecedented move. Their contact tracing app is now being used by quite a few governments with the UK also ditching its homegrown app for this.
What does the notification do?
The technology is available as an API (Application Programming Interface) on both Android and iOS. It allows users to stay alert and safe from COVID-19 by allowing their phones to continuously log devices near them. This will let them contact trace anyone that tests positive for coronavirus and know if they are at risk. This technology can only work with an app that complements it.
Once a person updates on that app that they are COVID-19 positive, the data is uploaded on the cloud. This data is given to health authorities and to all the contacts that have come in contact with the person. This will help health agencies understand who is at risk, how their safety can be ensured, and how to contain the spread.
Is it working in India?
While the notification is visible on all phones, it is not working due to the absence of a supplementary app. India’s homegrown Aarogya Setu app is also a contact tracing app that uses Bluetooth and Location details from the phone. This means that these options need to be switched on at all times.
In a blog post, both the tech giants have commented- “Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use the location from the device; and 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 the use of these apps.”
Apple and Google’s policy, however, does not use location data. These apps only use Bluetooth to collect information. Their API does not allow public health apps to get access to location data to trace the movement of the user.
Aarogya Setu also asks for personal details such as phone numbers as opposed to the strict privacy guidelines followed by Apple and Google’s contact tracing app.