The latest COVID-19 Exposure Notification service launched by Google and Apple has fallen prey to misinformation and panic as soon as it appeared on Androids and iPhones on Sunday.
A viral message on social media falsely claims that this is actually a tracker that has been inserted into every phone during 'phone disruptions earlier this week'. It also provides instructions, which takes users to the COVID-19 exposure notification service on their respective phones.
However, this is neither a tracker nor a sensor, it is an application programming interface which provides support to contact tracing apps by public health authorities.
In order to put the fears to rest, we decided to explore some of the key questions people have regarding this new service that has appeared in our phones so suddenly.
What Is COVID-19 Exposure Notification?
In May 2020, Apple and Google announced their joint initiative in creating a new technology "that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones".
The service, which comes in the form of an API or application programming interface, allows other apps to collect random IDs of phones in the vicinity and detect the exposure to a positive COVID-19 case. Although this service is already available in the list of services on Google and Apple smartphones, its functionality needs to be activated by the user by downloading a compatible contact tracing app.
Here is how this service works, according to Google:
- Once you opt-in to the notification system, the Exposure Notifications System will generate a random ID for your device. To help ensure these random IDs can't be used to identify you or your location, they change every 10-20 minutes.
- Your phone and the phones around you will work in the background to exchange these privacy-preserving random IDs via Bluetooth. You do not need to have the app open for this process to take place.
- Your phone periodically checks all the random IDs associated with positive COVID-19 cases against its own list.
- If there's a match, the app will notify you with further instructions from your public health authority on how to keep you and the people around you safe.
Here is a visual representation of the entire process, provided by Google in a blogpost:
Furthermore, this is a default service which was rolled out through an Operating System update, and cannot be deleted from the phone. However, users will have the option to turn off the service or deleted the randomly generated IDs by going to the COVID-19 notifications settings in their respective phones.
Does It Track Users?
Google and Apple have explicitly stated that this service does not collect location data from phones, and that it works solely by conveying randomly generated IDs through Bluetooth.
Google also claims that the API will not make the user's identity to other users or to Google and Apple, even if that person is tested positive.
Does It Work With Aarogya Setu app?
Over the past few months, contact tracing in India has become synonymous with Aarogya Setu, the Union Health ministry's flagship app to help trace COVID-19 cases through contact and notify others on their exposure to such cases as well.
Will Aarogya Setu be able to use the latest exposure notification API by Google and Apple for contact tracing? The answer is no.
A Google spokesperson told BOOM that the Indian government uses its own API, and thus will not require this latest service by Google and Apple to run Aarogya Setu.
Furthermore, Aarogya Setu works by collecting location data from users, which is not permitted by Google and Apple's API. Therefore, Indian users will not be able to use this service, even if it shows up in their phones' settings.
Updated On: 2020-06-30T13:29:34+05:30