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Apple And Google Update Contact Tracing Software

Image via Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Apple and Google announced they would work together to develop a COVID-19 Exposure Notification API. Initially, access to the contact tracing software required users to download an app from their local health authorities and opt-in to receive Exposure Notifications.

The two companies announced yesterday that the COVID-19 Exposure Notification technology will be built directly into iOS and Android. If opted-in, the technology uses Bluetooth signals to determine how closely and for how long two phones were together and warns the other if the user tests positive for the coronavirus.

The move is in large part due to a lack of adoption as health authorities have struggled to roll out their apps. The introduction of Exposure Notifications Express will eliminate the need for health authorities to develop and maintain their own app.

Only about 20 countries and regions have introduced contact tracing apps, while only six of 50 U.S. states have done so. Only half of U.S. states are even considering building their own contact tracing app.

"As the next step in our work with public health authorities on Exposure Notifications, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the Exposure Notifications System without the need for them to build and maintain an app," Apple and Google said. "Exposure Notifications Express provides another option for public health authorities to supplement their existing contact tracing operations with technology without compromising on the project’s core tenets of user privacy and security."

Public health authorities can now simply submit a configuration file with their contact information and guidance, while users will be notified to opt-in once their state or region is available. Public health authorities will still be able to maintain other apps they've built if they choose to.

"Public health agencies are carrying an extraordinary load in managing the novel coronavirus response," CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories Scott J. Becker said. "Offering a turn-key solution such as EN Express can greatly reduce their burden and eliminate many of the up-front requirements of building an app and setting up servers."

The software will be built into iOS 13.7, which was released yesterday, while the Android version will be available later this month on Android 6.0 or higher.

With widespread use of contact tracing software required for the technology to be effective, the move by Apple and Google should help speed up its adoption.

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